Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is in a “state of cardiopulmonary arrest”, police have said, after being shot while making a speech in the western city of Nara.
NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, said Abe – the country’s longest-serving prime minister until he resigned in 2020 – fell to the ground and appeared to be bleeding from the chest after being shot from behind with a shotgun on Friday morning.
NHK quoted firefighters as saying he showed no vital signs.
Media reports quoted police as saying that the weapon thought to have been used in the attack was homemade. A photograph showed two cylindrical metal parts that appeared to have been heavily bound with black tape lying on the road near the scene.
NHK said a suspect, named by police as Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old resident of Nara, had been taken into custody but provided no further details.
A witness to the attack told the broadcaster that the first shot caused Abe to stumble backwards, adding that he fell to the ground after the second shot. TBS Television reported that Abe had been shot on the left side of his chest and apparently also in the neck.
Amateur video footage showed Abe’s aides rushing towards him as smoke filled the air behind him. The clip does not show the moment he fell. Other clips show members of Abe’s security detail wrestling a man presumed to be Yamagami to the ground. The suspect was wearing a grey shirt, light brown trousers and grey trainers. His face was partly obscured by a surgical mask. He reportedly did not attempt to flee before being detained at the scene.
The attack has sent shockwaves through Japan. The country has close to “zero-tolerance” of gun ownership – an approach that experts say contributes to its extremely low rate of gun crime. There were six reported gun deaths in 2014, according to the National Police Agency, and the number rarely exceeds 10, in a country of 126 million people.
Abe, who was flown to hospital by helicopter, had been in Nara to make a campaign speech ahead of this Sunday’s upper house elections. Japan’s ruling LDP party is reported to have asked for campaigning to be halted.
Prime minister Fumio Kishida’s special adviser, Gen Nakatani, told reporters “terror or violence can never be tolerated”, Japanese news agency Jiji reported.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken expressed deep concern over the condition of Abe. “Our thoughts, our prayers are with him, with his family, with the people of Japan,” Blinken said on the sidelines of a G20 meeting on the Indonesian island of Bali. “This is a very, very sad moment. And we’re awaiting news from Japan.”
Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese described the news as “shocking”, adding “our thoughts are with his family and the people of Japan at this time”.
Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen said in a statement: “I believe everyone is as surprised and sad as I am. Taiwan and Japan are both democratic countries with rule of law. On behalf of my government, I would like to severely condemn violent and illegal acts. Former Prime Minister Abe is not only a good friend of mine, but also a staunch friend of Taiwan’s. He has supported Taiwan for many years and spared no effort to promote the progress of Taiwan-Japan relations.
Abe, a conservative lawmaker who quit abruptly as premier in 2007 after one year in the post, swept back for a rare second stint in 2012 pledging to revive a stagnant economy, loosen the limits of a post-world war two pacifist constitution and restore conservative values.
He was instrumental in winning the 2020 Olympics for Tokyo, cherishing a wish to preside over the Games and even appeared as Nintendo video game character Mario during the Olympic handover at Rio 2016.
Abe is known for his “Abenomics” policy to lift the world’s third-biggest economy out of deflation and for supporting a more prominent role for Japan’s military to counter growing threats from North Korea and a more assertive China. While in office he failed to realise his main political ambition – to revise Japan’s “pacifist” constitution, which prohibits the country from using force to resolve international disputes. In recent weeks he has voiced support for significant rises in Japan’s defence budget, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as proof that Japan should stay vigilant in case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
Abe became Japan’s longest-serving premier in November 2019, but by the summer of 2020, public support had been eroded by his handling of the Covid-19 outbreak as well as a series of scandals, including the arrest of his former justice minister. Citing the return of a chronic bowel complaint that had contributed to the premature end to his first term in office, he resigned without presiding over the Games, which were postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic.
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