TOKYO– Former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was pronounced dead on Friday after being shot twice by an ex-Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) worker while he was delivering a speech in the western prefecture of Nara.

Abe, 67, died at 5:03 p.m. local time, the hospital that received the former prime minister said at a press conference in the afternoon. 

Abe, also former leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), was shot twice from behind at 11:30 a.m. local time by Tetsuya Yamagami, a former worker for the MSDF and resident of the western city while speaking in front of Kintetsu Railway’s Yamato-Saidaiji Station, ahead of Sunday’s upper house election, local police and firefighters said. 

Two shots were heard at the site and Abe fell to the ground with blood seen on his shirt. He was later rushed by medevac to the Nara Medical University Hospital. 

Abe was conscious when admitted but then fell into unconsciousness later in the afternoon.

His heart  was injured and two places at the  neck after being shot, the hospital said, adding that his wound was deep enough to reach his heart. 

The cause of death was believed to be blood loss, according to the hospital.

The shooter, Tetsuya Yamagami, was arrested on the scene.

The 41-year-old Yamagami, who worked for MSDF for three years until around 2005, was arrested at the scene for attempted murder and was quoted as telling police he intended to kill Abe as he was “dissatisfied” with the former prime minister, although said his actions were not a grudge against Abe’s political beliefs, according to police reports. 

Yamagami was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder and local police retrieved what appeared to be a handmade gun from the vicinity of where the former prime minister was shot. 

The death of Abe has sent shock waves around Japan where gun crime is rare.

The shooting was quickly condemned in the “strongest terms” by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida who after returning to his office in Tokyo by helicopter from Yamagata Prefecture where he was campaigning, called the shooting “barbaric.”

Japan’s top government spokesperson, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, meanwhile, told reporters that any brutal act should never be tolerated, adding, “We strongly condemn this.” 

Abe started his political career in 1982 when he served as an assistant to the minister of foreign affairs. 

He has since been elected to the House of Representatives nine times starting from 1993. 

He also once served as director of the Social Affairs Division of the LDP, deputy chief Cabinet secretary, secretary general of the LDP, and chief Cabinet secretary. 

He served as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and again from 2012 to 2020, but stepped down from his post due to a chronic intestinal disease, becoming the nation’s longest-serving prime minister by number of consecutive days in office on Aug. 24, 2020.

Abe announced on Aug. 28, 2020 that he would step down from his post due to health concerns. 

Local police said the full motive for the murder of Abe is not yet known, but investigations are underway.  – Xinhua