Tokyo (CNN) – Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe died on Friday after being shot while giving a campaign speech on a street in central Japan.
The assassination of the former world leader in broad daylight has shocked a nation not used to gun violence and prompted an outpouring of support and condolences from the international community.
Abe died from excessive bleeding and was pronounced dead at 5:03 p.m. local time, doctors at the Nara Medical University hospital said during a news conference on Friday. The doctors said the bullet that killed the former Japanese leader was “deep enough to reach his heart” and a team of 20 medical professionals were unable to stop the bleeding.
Abe went into cardiopulmonary arrest at the site of the shooting and was rushed to hospital in a state of cardiac arrest at 12:20 p.m. local time, doctors said. During surgery, doctors discovered a gunshot wound to his neck and a large wound on his heart.
The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, was detained at the scene and admitted to shooting Abe, according to Nara Nishi police.
Abe, 67, was the former Liberal Democratic Party leader and Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, holding office from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2012 to 2020, before resigning due to health reasons. Since stepping down, he remained in the public eye and regularly appeared in the media to discuss current affairs.
At the time of the shooting, Abe was delivering a speech in support of LDP candidates in Nara city ahead of the upcoming Upper House elections scheduled for Sunday.
Suspect apparently used homemade weapon
Video aired by public broadcaster NHK captured the moments before the shooting, showing Abe speaking to a small crowd in front of Yamatosaidaiji railway station. In subsequent videos, two shots can be heard and smoke can be seen in the air.
Photos show people gathered around the former leader as he lay in the street, with what appeared to be blood stains on his white shirt.
An official from the Nara City Fire Department told CNN earlier Friday Abe was in a state of cardiopulmonary arrest, a term used to describe the sudden loss of heart function and breathing.
He was rushed to hospital via helicopter, where medics began frantic efforts to keep him alive.
But Abe’s heart had stopped beating by the time he reached the hospital, doctors said.
The former leader had two gunshot wounds but doctors could not determine the trajectory of the bullets.
During surgery, doctors struggled to stem the bleeding. “We took resuscitative measures, but (Abe) unfortunately died,” Hidenori Fukushima, a professor at Nara Medical University, told reporters.
Shortly before 6 a.m. local time on Saturday, a car believed to be carrying his body left the hospital, NHK reported.
Yamagami, who appeared to have used a homemade weapon in the attack, was arrested and charged with attempted murder, according to NHK.
He was held for questioning at Nara Nishi police station.
During a news conference Friday, Nara Nishi police said the 41-year-old suspect, who is unemployed, holds hatred toward a certain group to which he thought Abe was related.
Police raided the suspect’s apartment at 5:17 p.m. local time, where they confiscated several handmade pistol-like items, police said.
Yamagami is being investigated as a suspect in a murder case, to which 90 investigators have been assigned, the police added.
Japan’s National Police Agency will review security arrangements for Abe, NHK reported Saturday.
NHK reported the police agency said the Nara prefectural police drew up a security plan for the former prime minister while in the city. The prefecture’s police officers and security personnel from the Tokyo Metropolitan police had remained on the lookout and had reportedly watched Abe from all sides during his speech, NHK reported.
Several dozen officers, including the Nara prefecture’s plain-clothed police officers and one specially assigned personnel from the Tokyo police force, were on duty, NHK reported.
World leaders horrified by assassination
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida paid his “deepest condolences” to former leader Abe, saying he “was a personal friend, with whom (he) spent a lot of time.”
Kishida said he had a “great respect for the legacy (Abe) left behind” and would continue election campaigning on Saturday, adding a free and fair election must be defended at all costs.
News of the shooting and Abe’s subsequent death horrified leaders around the world, many of whom had worked with Abe during his long tenure.
US President Joe Biden said he was “stunned, outraged, and deeply saddened,” adding he had worked closely with Abe and his killing was “a tragedy for Japan and all who knew him.”
“While there are many details that we do not yet know, we know that violent attacks are never acceptable and that gun violence always leaves a deep scar on the communities that are affected by it. The United States stands with Japan in this moment of grief,” the US president said in a statement.
Later on Friday, Biden ordered American flags at the White House and on other federal grounds be flown at half-staff until Sunday in recognition of Abe’s death.
“Abe was one of Australia’s closest friends on the world stage,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wrote on Twitter, adding Abe was “a leader in the Indo-Pacific, championing a vision of a free and open region.”
Abe’s legacy includes a major Asia-Pacific trade partnership, known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Quad, Albanese added, saying both were shaped by his diplomatic leadership.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India would hold a day of national mourning on Saturday. Abe was “a towering global statesman, an outstanding leader, and a remarkable administrator,” said Modi, adding his relationship with Abe “goes back many years.”
European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called Abe “a wonderful person, great democrat and champion of the multilateral world order” in a tweet on Friday.
“I mourn with his family, his friends and all the people of Japan. This brutal and cowardly murder of Shinzo Abe shocks the whole world,” she said.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II said in a statement she had “fond memories of meeting Mr. Abe and his wife” during their 2016 visit to the UK. “His love for Japan, and his desire to forge ever-closer bonds with the United Kingdom, were clear. I wish to convey my deepest sympathy and condolences to his family and to the people of Japan at this difficult time,” the Queen said.
After Abe was shot but before his death was confirmed, China’s Foreign Ministry sent its condolences to Abe’s family. “We are following the developments, and we hope former Prime Minister Abe will be out of danger and recover soon. We certainly would like to send our regards to his family,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news conference on Friday afternoon.
Japan’s low gun crime
Abe’s assassination has shocked Japan, which has one of the lowest rates of gun crime in the world due to its extremely strict gun control laws.
Last year, Japan reported only one death from firearms, and a total of 10 firearm-related incidents, according to the National Police Agency.
Eight of the 10 reported were gang related, the agency added.
In 2018, Japan reported nine deaths from firearms, compared with 39,740 that year in the United States.
Under Japan’s firearms laws, the only guns permitted for sale are shotguns and air rifles — handguns are outlawed. But getting a gun is a long and complicated process.
Nancy Snow, Japan director of the International Security Industrial Council, told CNN Friday’s shooting will change the country “forever.”
“It’s not only rare, but it’s really culturally unfathomable,” Snow said. “The Japanese people can’t imagine having a gun culture like we have in the United States. This is a speechless moment. I really feel at a loss for words. I pray for the best for the former prime minister.”
CNN’s Emiko Jozuka, Irene Nasser, Mayumi Maruyama, Jessie Yeung and Jake Kwon contributed reporting.