Illustration of Japan’s former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Assassination of
Shinzo Abe

Using video images and expert analysis, Reuters chronicles apparent lapses in Abe’s security and examines the possible motive of a killing that shocked a nation unused to gun crime.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the longest-serving leader in modern Japan, was fatally shot from close range during a campaign rally on July 8, two days before a parliamentary election.

When Abe, 67, was shot, he was standing at an intersection outside a train station in the western city of Nara, speaking to a crowd as cars and vans passed behind his exposed back on the road where the assailant appeared. Police arrested a suspect at the scene, whom they have identified as Tetsuya Yamagami. Reuters was not able to reach Yamagami, who remains in police custody, for comment and could not determine whether he had a lawyer.

Illustrated reconstruction of the scene where Shinzo Abe was shot. Abe stood on a podium in the intersection, which was surrounded by guardrails and adorned with party banners. There were four bodyguards inside the guardrails with Abe and more outside.

There were four bodyguards inside the guardrails with Abe and more outside, according to Koichi Ito, a former sergeant at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s special assault team, now a security consultant, who analysed footage of Abe’s speech and the shooting.

Abe’s bodyguards failed to protect him in the seconds after a first shot from a gunman appeared to have missed, one of a series of critical security missteps on the day the former Japanese premier was slain, according to eight experts who analysed the footage.

His bodyguards could have saved him if they shielded him or removed him from the line of fire in the 2.5 seconds between the shots, the experts said. Some of them also said they should have been able to spot the attacker earlier.

“If Abe had been protected properly, it could have been avoided,” said Koichi Ito, a former sergeant at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s special assault team, now a security consultant, who analysed footage of Abe’s speech and the shooting.

There was a loud bang and then smoke,” businessman Makoto Ichikawa, who was at the scene, told Reuters. “The first shot, no one knew what was going on,” he said. After the second shot the assailant was tackled by what looked like Security Police, he said.

Timeline of events from when Abe was shot to when he was declared dead.

Around 11:30 a.m. (Japan Standard Time)

Abe is shot while making a campaign speech in Nara. Two shots were heard. Police tackle and detain a suspect at the scene of the attack.

11:32 a.m.

Emergency responders are dispatched to the scene.

11:36 a.m.

Helicopter for airlifting Abe to the hospital is requested.

11:57 a.m.

Japanese media report Abe is in cardiopulmonary arrest.

12:09 p.m.

Abe is loaded onto the helicopter.

12:13 p.m.

Helicopter carrying Abe takes off, the fire department log shows.

12:20 p.m. (50 minutes after the shooting)

Abe arrives by helicopter at the Nara Medical University Hospital.

5:03 p.m. (5.5 hours after the shooting)

Abe is declared dead, having bled to death from deep wounds to the heart and the front of his neck.

Kyodo news agency published a photograph of Abe lying face-up on the street by a guardrail, blood on his white shirt. People were crowded around him, one administering heart massage.

The assassination shocked a nation where guns are tightly controlled and political violence extremely rare.

An annotated map of Nara city in western Japan. Abe’s speech was at Yamato-Saidaiji Station – it is common for Japanese politicians to campaign in public areas, such as in front of train stations. He was airlifted to Nara Medical University Hospital more than 20 km away from the station. The helicopter ride lasted about 7 minutes.

Homemade gun

Video images showed the assailant fired at Abe from behind with a homemade device that had a pistol grip and what appeared to be two pipes covered in black electrical tape. The weapon measured 40 by 20 centimetres (16 by 8 inches) and was made of materials such as metal and wood, officials from the Nara prefectural police told reporters.

Annotated illustration of the homemade gun. The gun’s barrel was made of two metal tubes with metal caps at the butt end that worked as a cannon, mounted on a wooden plank as the base. It had a plastic trigger, possibly made of two pieces, and the butt of the gun was reinforced with adhesive tape. The gun also comprised batteries and cables, and was held together with straps and duct tape.

Japanese media said the suspect had told investigators he had searched online for instructions on how to make firearms and ordered parts and gunpowder on the internet as well.

Japanese media also said that as many as six projectiles could be fired off at once when the gun’s trigger was pulled.

The Nara prefectural police have not given details about the ammunition used in the attack. A spokesperson told Reuters that the police were investigating the possibility that multiple bullet-like objects were fired in a single shot. The spokesperson declined to comment on the details of the projectiles or how the suspect acquired them.

Three experts, including two firearms specialists, said the weapon could have been made in a day or two once a person had the materials.

“Anyone with a basic understanding of how guns work could have made it with minimum knowledge,” said firearms commentator Tetsuya Tsuda.

The suspect

A person named Tetsuya Yamagami — the same name as the suspect — served in the Maritime Self-Defence Force from 2002 to 2005, a spokesman for Japan’s navy said, declining to say whether this was the suspected killer, as local media have reported.

“During their service, members of the Self-Defence Force train with live ammunition once a year. They also do breakdowns and maintenance of guns,” a senior navy officer told Reuters.

“But as they are following orders when they do it, it’s hard to believe they gain enough knowledge to be able to make guns,” he said.

The shooter blamed the Unification Church for his mother’s financial problems, fuelling a grudge against Abe, whom he associated with the church, media said.

Police have said only that Yamagami was angry at “an organisation.” The church has said Yamagami’s mother, who has not been publicly identified, is a church member.

Abe, not a Unification Church member, appeared at an event hosted by an organisation affiliated with the group last year.


Photos from Abe’s funeral in Tokyo (top), mourners signing condolence books in the Japanese embassy in Bangkok, Thailand (bottom left) and a memorial wall outside of the de-facto Japanese embassy in Taipei, Taiwan (bottom right). REUTERS/Issei Kato, Athit Perawongmetha and Ann Wang

Gun control in Japan

Japan has very tight gun control laws. The restrictions do not allow private citizens to have handguns and licensed hunters may own only rifles. Gun owners must attend classes, pass a written test and undergo a mental health evaluation and a background check.

Gun crime is very rare in Japan. In 2021, there were 10 shooting incidents, eight involving gangsters, according to police data. One person was killed and four wounded.

Abe’s assassination was the first of a sitting or former Japanese premier since the 1930s during the days of Japan’s pre-war militarism.

The attack on Abe, however, showed that gun violence cannot be eliminated even in a country with tough gun laws.

There have been some cases in recent years where people illicitly made weapons in Japan. In 2018, police arrested a 23-year-old man in the western city of Himeji for making a gun and more than 130 bullets at home. Also that year, police detained a 19-year-old university student in Nagoya city for manufacturing explosives as well as a gun with the help of a 3D printer.

Additional reporting by

Timothy Kelly, Nobuhiro Kubo, Satoshi Sugiyama, Daniel Leussink, Ju-min Park, Sam Nussey and David Dolan

Cover illustration by

Anurag Rao


Reuters reporting; Japanese media;; Maps4News

Edited by

Anand Katakam and William Mallard