TOKYO >> Japanese authorities have won court approval to extend the detention of the suspect in the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this month for another 10 days until they file formal charges .
Abe, one of Japan’s most influential politicians, was assassinated on July 8 in the western city of Nara, shocking a nation known for its security and strict gun control.
The suspected killer, Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, was arrested immediately after the shooting and was held for questioning. He can be detained until July 29, when prosecutors must decide whether to formally press charges for murder.
Nara Prefectural Police said Yamagami, who served in the Japanese Navy in the early 2000s, told investigators he killed Abe due to rumors of the former prime minister’s ties to a religious group that ‘he hated. Yamagami was reportedly distressed because his mother’s massive donations to the Unification Church bankrupted the family.
Over the weekend, police obtained a letter they believe Yamagami had sent to a reporter the day before the attack, describing how his mother’s overspending destroyed and ruined his family due to her devotion at the church. He said the experience “distorted my whole life”.
In the one-page typed letter, the suspect allegedly said Abe was not his primary target even though he felt bitter towards him. He said Abe was just one of the church’s ‘well-wishers’ and that it would be impossible to kill every member of the church’s founding family – alluding to his decision to target Abe at the square.
Yamagami reportedly said in the letter that he no longer had the ability to think about the political consequences that Abe’s death might bring.
Police said the suspect had tested his powerful homemade pistols at least twice – in the mountains and targeting a local branch of the Unification Church.
On Tuesday, Ryo Sakai, head of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, told reporters that his troops were cooperating fully with police investigations. Yamagami, who was assigned to a Hiroshima-based destroyer, probably learned more about firearms than ordinary citizens, even though Navy training doesn’t involve handguns.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has called on members of the ruling party to unite to overcome difficulties amid growing speculation of a power struggle between members of Abe’s party wing – the largest among the Liberal Democrats – on who should lead the faction.
On Tuesday, senior LDP officials called on members to prepare for a state funeral for Abe. A smaller funeral at a Buddhist temple in Tokyo was held last Tuesday and Abe was cremated, but Kishida announced plans for a state funeral in the fall at an event that will also serve as a diplomatic gathering. Abe’s death drew condolences from representatives of more than 100 countries.
Plans for a state funeral for a leader whose arch-conservative ideology has divided public opinion have drawn mixed reactions from opposition groups.