Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe died in hospital on Friday, local media reported, hours after being shot at a political campaign event in an attack condemned as “absolutely unforgivable”.
Citing a senior member of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, national broadcaster NHK said “former prime minister Abe died at a hospital in Kashihara city, Nara, where he was receiving medical treatment. He was 67.”
The death was also reported by other broadcasters as well as the Japanese news agencies Jiji and Kyodo.
According to chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, Abe, known as Japan’s best known politician was shot at a campaign event on Friday, July 8.
“Former prime minister Abe was shot at around 11:30 am,” in the country’s western region of Nara, Matsuno told reporters.
“One man, believed to be the shooter, has been taken into custody. The condition of former prime minister Abe is currently unknown.”
“Whatever the reason, such a barbaric act can never be tolerated, and we strongly condemn it,” Matsuno added.
Local media including national broadcaster NHK and the Kyodo news agency said the former prime minister appeared to be in “cardiorespiratory arrest”, a term often used in Japan before a feared death can be officially confirmed by a coroner.
The attacks comes despite Japan’s famously low levels of violent crime and tough gun laws.
Abe, 67, had been delivering a speech at an event ahead of Sunday’s upper house elections, with heavy security present, but spectators were able to approach him easily.
Footage shows him standing on a stage when a loud blast is heard and smoke is visible in the air.
A man is then seen being tackled to the ground by security.
“He was giving a speech and a man came from behind,” a young woman at the scene told NHK.
“The first shot sounded like a toy. He didn’t fall and there was a large bang. The second shot was more visible, you could see the spark and smoke,” she added.
“After the second shot, people surrounded him and gave him cardiac massage.”
An official at Nara Medical University hospital told AFP: “What we can share now is that his transfer here has been completed,” declining to comment on the former leader’s status.
“We are all saddened and shocked by the shooting of former prime minister Abe Shinzo,” US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.
“The US government and American people are praying for the well-being of Abe-san, his family, and people of Japan.”
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s special advisor Gen Nakatani told reporters “terror or violence can never be tolerated.”
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, held office in 2006 for one year and again from 2012 to 2020, when he was forced to step down due to his bowel condition ulcerative colitis.
In Japan, getting a gun licence is a long and complicated process even for Japanese citizens, who must first get a recommendation from a shooting association and then undergo strict police checks.