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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Justin McCurry in Tokyo

Shinzo Abe killing: ‘Moonies’ church confirms suspect’s mother is member

People pay tribute to former Japan prime minister Shinzo Abe at Zojoji Temple in Tokyo, where a private family wake was held.
People pay tribute to former Japan prime minister Shinzo Abe at Zojoji Temple in Tokyo, where a private family wake was held. Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

The mother of the man accused of assassinating Shinzo Abe is a member of the Unification church, which the suspect has cited as a motive for his fatal shooting of the former Japanese prime minister last week.

The church, whose members are colloquially known as Moonies, confirmed at a press conference on Monday that the mother of Tetsuya Yamagami, who was detained moments after he shot Abe from behind during an election campaign speech on Friday, attends meetings about once a month.

Yamagami, 41, has told investigators he had initially intended to target the organisation’s leader, but that he had also intended to kill Abe, whom he claimed had promoted the church in Japan. He said his mother had made a “huge donation” to the church more than 20 years ago that had crippled the family’s finances.

Tomihiro Tanaka, the president of the Japan branch of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification – more commonly known as the Unification church – declined to comment on the donations, citing the police investigation into Abe’s death in the western city of Nara.

Police have confirmed that Yamagami held a grudge against a specific organisation, but have not named it.

Tetsuya Yamagami is taken to prosecutors in Nara, Japan.
Tetsuya Yamagami is taken to prosecutors in Nara, Japan. Photograph: KYODO/Reuters

Tanaka said neither Abe nor Yamagami were members of the church, which was founded in 1954 in South Korea by the Rev Sun Myung Moon, adding that the group would cooperate with the police investigation if asked.

Abe, a conservative who became Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in 2019, delivered a congratulatory message via video link at a church event last year. Donald Trump is among other prominent figures to have addressed the group, known for its conservative views, in an attempt to secure its followers’ support.

In a statement released on Saturday, the church expressed its “shock and grief” over Abe’s death, describing him as a “globally respected statesman of Japan and active in building peace in Asia”.

Abe’s maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who served as prime minister from 1957 to 1960, was reportedly involved in setting up a political group linked to the Unification church, which shared his anti-communist views. The Kyodo news agency, citing investigative sources, said Yamagami had developed a deep resentment towards Kishi that he directed towards Abe.

A wake was held for Abe on Monday evening at Zojoji, a large Buddhist temple in central Tokyo, and a private funeral will take place on Tuesday at the same venue. Media reports said a public memorial and other ceremonies would be held at a later date, including in Abe’s constituency in Yamaguchi prefecture, in the south-west.

The private family wake for Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Friday.
The private family wake for Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Friday. Photograph: Masatoshi Okauchi/REX/Shutterstock

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, described Abe as a “man of vision” during an unscheduled trip to Tokyo on Monday, as the country’s ruling party held muted celebrations following a resounding election victory.

The Liberal Democratic party (LDP), which Abe led for almost a decade, and its junior coalition party, increased their majority in the upper house on Sunday.

The LDP and Komeito won 76 of the 125 seats being contested in an election overshadowed by the first assassination of a Japanese leader in almost 90 years.

The election in the less powerful chamber in Japan’s parliament had no bearing on the makeup of the government, but was seen as a referendum on prime minister Fumio Kishida’s first 10 months in office amid growing regional security concerns and the cost of living crisis.

At 52%, turnout was slightly up from three years earlier – a trend some analysts attributed to Abe’s death – but the coalition’s victory had been expected before he was killed.

Blinken, who had been in Bali attending a G20 meeting, said he had flown to Japan because “we’re friends, and when one friend is hurting, the other friend shows up”.

Abe, he said, “did more than anyone to elevate the relationship between the United States and Japan to new heights”.

“We will do everything we can to help our friends carry the burden of this loss,” he added, calling Abe “a man of vision with the ability to realise that vision”, after a meeting with Kishida.

The election result means that Kishida, an Abe protege, may yet pursue his mentor’s lifelong ambition of revising Japan’s “pacifist” constitution.

While building public support for constitutional change will take time, Kishida is expected to use his party’s mandate to double defence spending in the coming years amid concerns over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and increased Chinese military activity in the East and South China seas.

“He now has a green light for this, said Robert Ward, at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Kishida said Sunday’s vote had been a victory for democracy. “It is significant we were able to pull this election together at a time violence was shaking its foundations,” he said after a moment of silence was held at the LDP headquarters on Sunday night.

Abe’s death at the hands of a gunman who was able to wander freely behind his target as he addressed a small group of voters has prompted criticism of his security arrangements.

The head of police in the Nara region has admitted that there were “undeniable” flaws, and on Monday, the government’s top spokesperson, Hirokazu Matsuno, said he expected a full investigation into security lapses on the day of the attack.

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