Shinzo Abe, a former prime minister of Japan, was apparently shot during a campaign speech on Friday in Nara, according to the Associated Press and NHK public television.
NHK camera footage showed him collapsed on the street, holding his chest, with the broadcasting corporation reporting that he is experiencing heart failure. Abe was rushed to the hospital by helicopter following the incident and a male suspect has been arrested at the scene on the suspicion of attempted murder, according to NHK. The man is reported to have been a member of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force until 2005.
Japan’s current prime minister Fumio Kishida has returned by helicopter to his official residence in Tokyo from Yamagata, where he was making a campaign stop. In a statement to the press, Kishida said: “I condemn this act in the strongest possible words” and announced that he would convene a meeting of the cabinet.
Broadcaster TBS says that Abe was hit twice, once in the left chest area and once on the right side of his neck. He remains unconscious and his life is in danger.
Kishida said: “All measures are being taken to save [Abe’s] life.”
Ex-leader, Abe was making a campaign speech ahead of Sunday’s election for Japanese parliament’s upper house.
Abe was the longest-serving prime minister in Japanese history, having held office from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2012 to 2020. He announced his resignation from the post in August 2020 citing his ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease.
Despite winning multiple elections, Abe has long been a deeply divisive figure in Japan, due to an ultra-nationalist stance that saw him wanting to revise the country’s pacifist constitution and change the military from its current status as a purely defensive force.
His repeated visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine, which houses the remains of several war criminals, angered neighbors Korea and China. And under Abe a territorial dispute with Russia was revived.
Abe, the grandson of another former prime minister, has repeatedly spoken of his regrets at not fulfilling all his political goals and in recent months has sought a comeback. He was believed to be campaigning Friday (local time) on behalf of a Liberal Democratic Party candidate.
The attack on Abe undoubtedly comes as a shock to Japan and media coverage has been extensive. Japanese media is describing the incident as an “assassination attempt” and premeditated,” given that the shooter apparently used a home-made gun that would not have been accurate from any great distance.
Japan has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world and has seen reported crime levels dropping steadily since the beginning of the 21st century. Japanese crime figures continued to drop during 2021, the first year of COVID.
While guns are a rarity in Japan, the country has experienced violence. The country recently marked the 27th anniversary of a terror attack on the Tokyo metro system that killed 14 people and injured 6,000. The Aum Shinrikyo cult used Sarin gas, rather than firearms.
In May, Japan released from prison Fusako Shigenobu, a woman once described as “the empress of terror,” who co-founded the Japanese Red Army, a group that carried out armed attacks worldwide in support of the Palestinian cause.
According to Business Insider, if a Japanese person seeks to buy a gun, they must attend classes, pass a written test and achieve more than 95% accuracy on a shooting-range test. They are also subjected to a mental health evaluation and background check, including interviews with friends and family. The class and written exam must be retaken every three years, and the only guns available are shotguns and air rifles.