The former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has died, aged 67, after being shot while making a speech in the western city of Nara.
Abe, the country’s longest-serving prime minister until he resigned in 2020, was flown to hospital by helicopter after the attack. His death was first reported by the public broadcaster NHK.
It was the first assassination of a sitting or former Japanese premier since the days of prewar militarism in the 1930s.
Speaking before Abe’s death was announced, the prime minister, Fumio Kishida, condemned the shooting in the “strongest terms”, while Japanese people and world leaders expressed shock at the violence in a country in which political violence is rare and guns are tightly controlled.
“This attack is an act of brutality that happened during the elections – the very foundation of our democracy – and is absolutely unforgivable,” said Kishida, struggling to keep his emotions in check.
Footage and accounts broadcast by Japanese media showed Abe’s speech interrupted by two loud bangs – possibly from a shotgun – and smoke, with Abe stumbling to the ground after the second shot. Emergency services said he had been wounded on the right side of his neck and left clavicle. A fire department official said Abe appeared to be in a state of cardiac arrest when he was airlifted to hospital.
Moments after the shooting, members of Abe’s security detail wrestled a man to the ground metres behind the former prime minister. 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.
Police identified the suspect as Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old resident of Nara. According to local media reports, police said 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.
Abe, who had been in Nara to make a campaign speech ahead of this Sunday’s upper house elections, was a conservative politician 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.
Having quit abruptly as premier in 2007 after one year in the post, Abe swept back for a rare second stint in 2012, pledging to revive a stagnant economy, loosen the limits of a post-second world war 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 the Nintendo video game character Mario during the Olympic handover at Rio 2016.