Shlnzo Abe after he was shot in Nara. Photo: NBC News


Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot by an assailant while delivering a pre-electoral speech in the western Japanese city of Nara this morning, reports state.

According to broadcaster NHK, whose reporter on the scene said he heard a gunshot and saw Abe collapse,  Abe was showing “no vital signs” after the incident.

His attacker was arrested at the scene by police and was identified as Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, of Nara, a former member of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, the country’s navy. No motive, or wider affilation, is yet apparent.

“It’s not a grudge against the political beliefs of former Prime Minister Abe,” Yamagami said, according to Kyoto News, which quoted Naha prefectural police.

A witness’s tweet shows a scene of confusion on a city street.

Footage airing on Japanese live TV showed Abe speaking to a thin crowd at a traffic circle when suddenly there was a cloud of smoke and the sound of two apparent gunshots behind Abe, who collapsed. Photos showed blood on the front of his shirt.

Separate footage showed suited security guards or plain clothes policemen wrestling Yamagami, dressed in a grey t-shirt and khaki pants, to the ground. He did not appear to try and escape. As of early reports, he was charged with attempted murder – now likely to be elevated to murder.

An apparent weapon that looked like an improvised – or sawn-off – double-barrelled shotgun was visible on the ground at the scene.

Abe reportedly was helicopter-evacuated to Nara Medical University Hospital.

The veteran politician was on the stump in the city in advance of Upper House elections set for Sunday, which Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party are comfortably expected to win.

Japan is noted for its low rates of gun crime and has no modern tradition of political assassination: The last such killing was the murder of a socialist politician by an ultranationalist – armed with a sword – in 1960.

Abe was one of Japan’s highest profile, but also most controversial politicians.

He served two terms as prime minister, from 2006-2007, and subsequently from 2012 to 2020. That latter term made him Japan’s longest serving premier. He retired from office on grounds of ill health, but is widely seen as a key backroom player inside the ruling LDP.

In his second term, he was noted for his “Abenomics” policies, which, after a promising early start, sputtered on the rocks of corporate reform.

He also presided over a 2014 “reinterpretation” of Japan’s pacifist constitution and an upgrade in Japan’s expeditionary military capabilities – notably, the stand up of a marine force, and also the conversion of two helicopter carriers to F35-capable light carriers.

He oversaw Japan’s hosting the Rugby World Cup, but his short-lived successor, Yoshihide Suga, oversaw the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – which took place in 2021. Abe also prioritized Japan’s inbound tourism sector – a sector which has yet to recover from Covid-19.

But though some Japanese saw him as an internationalist, many abroad considered him a dangerous nationalist, particularly for his revisionist views of Japan’s role in World War II. He was especially unpopular in neighboring South Korea.