Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe—Japan’s longest-serving premier and a figure of enduring influence—died after he was shot during a campaign event Friday, national broadcaster NHK said.
The attack shocked a nation where political violence and guns are rare. Abe, 67, was shot from about 10 feet away with what appeared to be a home-made firearm in the western city of Nara as he was giving a campaign speech for his ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Video and images from the scene showed the former premier collapsing to the ground, with blood on his shirt, after two blasts.
A Nara Medical University Hospital spokesperson said that there will be a press briefing at 6 p.m. local time, with the doctor who was in charge of treating Abe.
Prior to the NHK report, top officials from the ruling LDP said the election for Sunday would go ahead as planned, albeit with increased security.
The suspect was identified by local media as a 41-year-old local man who was a veteran of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. The man told police he intended to kill Abe because he was frustrated with the former premier, national public broadcaster NHK said.
The incident was one of Japan’s highest profile acts of political violence since World War Two and came as the country holds an upper house election on Sunday, which the LDP is expected to win. World leaders expressed concern over Abe, who spent more time as premier than anyone since Japan established the office in the 1880s.
Japan is a country with some of the strictest gun laws among leading economies and shootings are rare. But political violence still occurs from time to time: In 2007, Itcho Ito, the mayor of Nagasaki, died after being shot twice by a member of an organized crime gang. The last time a current or former Japanese prime minister was shot was 90 years ago.
There were few details about the weapon used in the attack on Abe. Video from the scene showed what appeared to be two long tubes wrapped together with black tape on the ground at the scene.
Abe’s record-setting run brought stability to Japan after a revolving door of six administrations, including a previous stint by where he served as leader. Abe helped Japan escape from a cycle of deflation, endured a Trump administration that questioned the nation’s only military alliance, and worked to improve ties with its biggest trading partner China, which were at their most hostile in decades when he took office.
Abe also devoted energy to trying to resolve a World War II territorial dispute with Russia, which has simmered for seven decades, lavishing hospitality on Vladimir Putin, in a policy that was reversed following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Abe is perhaps best known for his plans to revive Japan’s flagging economy through unprecedented monetary easing and regulatory reform that was eventually labeled “Abenomics.” He has been seen as a steady hand who has consolidated power during his record run and been able to overcome scandals, including one that came to light in 2017 over questionable government land allocations for schools provided to associates of Abe and his wife Akie.
The news of his shooting left citizens and colleagues shaken.
“I thought it impossible for something like this to happen in this day and age, in the 21st century,” said Yoshitaka Sakurada, who served as a minister under Abe. Bloomberg News