October 1, 2022

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Police in Japan have launched a murder investigation into the assassination of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe — but little is known about the suspect who was arrested at the scene of the fatal shooting on Friday.

Abe, 67, was pronounced dead by doctors at the Nara Medical University Hospital, at 5.03pm local time on Friday, just over five hours after being shot while delivering a campaign speech in front of a small crowd on a street.

Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, has admitted to shooting Abe, Nara Nishi police said during a news conference on Friday.

Tetsuya Yamagami, centre, holding a weapon, is detained near the site of gunshots in Nara, western Japan Friday, July 8, 2022.
Tetsuya Yamagami, centre, holding a weapon, is detained near the site of gunshots in Nara, western Japan Friday, July 8, 2022. Yamagami is accused of assassinating former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by opening fire on at him from behind as he delivered a campaign speech, an attack that stunned a nation that has some of the worlds toughest gun laws (Nara Shimbun/Kyodo News via AP)

He was taken to the Nara District Prosecutor’s Office on Sunday morning, and is being investigated as a “suspect for murder,” according to police.

Yamagami, who is unemployed, told investigators he holds hatred toward a certain group that he thought Abe was linked to, Nara Nishi police said.

Japan’s public broadcaster NHK and Kyodo News Agency have reported that Yamagami also said his mother was involved with the group, citing police.

Police have not named the group, telling CNN they could not provide any information.

Yamagami was described as a “totally normal” and seemingly “earnest” person by at least two people who had interacted with him, Kyodo News also reported.

He was hired through a dispatch agency in October 2020 to work at the freight department of a factory in Kyoto prefecture, the agency reported, citing an unnamed “former senior colleague”.

The former colleague characterised Yamagami as someone who kept to himself.

Shinzo Abe was giving a speech when he was shot. (Supplied)

“If it was work talk, he would respond, but he didn’t go into his private life. He seemed mild-mannered,” the former colleague said, according to Kyodo News.

The former colleague added that Yamagami would “eat lunch alone in his car” and that “conversations with him never strayed beyond the topic at hand.”

The former colleague said there had been no issues with Yamagami for the first six months of his employment, until he started to exhibit “gradual neglect” of work practices, according to Kyodo News Agency.

Former US President Donald Trump, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pose for a photo prior to their meeting at Akasaka Palace, Japanese state guest house, in Tokyo on May 27, 2019.
Former US President Donald Trump, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pose for a photo in 2019. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

In March, Yamagami started taking “unauthorised time off” and spoke of “heart issues” and other physical problems, despite having no previous issues with punctuality or attendance.

His employment ended on May 15, the agency reported.

An unnamed employee at the dispatch agency who interviewed Yamagami for the job described him as “totally normal,” but added that he “didn’t say much” and “had a slightly gloomy sense to him,” according to the Kyodo News Agency.

What kind of gun was fired?

The suspect used a homemade gun in the shooting, police said, and images from the scene showed what appeared to be a weapon with two cylindrical metal barrels wrapped in black tape.

Authorities later confiscated several handmade pistol-like items from the suspect’s apartment.

The weapon was a gun-like item that measured 40 centimetres long and 20 centimetres wide, police said.

Police inspect the site where Japans former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot in Nara, western Japan. (AP)

Yamagami made multiple types of guns with iron pipes that were wrapped in adhesive tape, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported, citing the police.

The police found guns with three, five, and six iron pipes as barrels.

The suspect inserted bullets in his handmade gun, parts of which he had bought online, police said, according to NHK.

Police believe the suspect used the strongest weapon he made in the assassination, NHK added.

What was the suspect’s plan?

The suspect told investigators he initially intended to kill Abe by using explosives, according to Japan’s Public Broadcaster NHK.

Yamagami originally planned to assassinate Abe at an event in Okayama, a prefecture about three hours’ drive from Nara, NHK reported.

“I was thinking about killing the former prime minister there (Okayama), but I saw that there were admission procedures at the entrance and I felt it would be difficult to get in”, he told investigators, according to NHK.

Nara police told CNN on Saturday that surveillance footage showed Yamagami leaving the Yamato-Saidaiji Station in Nara on Friday after arriving by train.

People pray at a makeshift memorial near the scene where the former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot while delivering his speech to support the Liberal Democratic Party's candidate during an election campaign in Nara, Saturday, July 9, 2022.
People pray at a makeshift memorial near the scene where the former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot while delivering his speech to support the Liberal Democratic Party’s candidate during an election campaign in Nara. (Kyodo News via AP)

How have security forces reacted?

At the time of the shooting, Abe was speaking in support of ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidates ahead of Upper House elections on July 10.

Despite resigning as Japan’s prime minister in 2020 due to health reasons, Abe remained an influential figure in the country’s political landscape and continued to campaign for the LDP.

Japan’s National Police Agency said it will review security arrangements put in place before Friday’s shooting, according to NHK.

Security was being handled by Nara prefectural police, which drew up a security plan for the former prime minister while he was in the city.

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The agency said several dozen officers and security personnel from the Tokyo Metropolitan police were on duty and had reportedly watched Abe from all sides during his speech, NHK said.

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