TOKYO – Japanese police said Wednesday they have found what they believe are several bullet marks on a building near the site of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's assassination last week in western Japan, apparently from the first shot fired from a suspect's powerful homemade gun that narrowly missed Abe.
Abe, the country’s longest-serving prime minister who remained influential even after stepping down two years ago for health reasons, was gunned down Friday during a campaign speech near a crowded train station in Nara.
A bullet from a second shot, fired seconds after the first from behind Abe, fatally struck him just as he turned around, apparently in reaction to the initial explosive sound.
The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, was arrested on the spot Friday. He can be detained for police investigation for up to three weeks before prosecutors decide whether to formally charge him with murder.
On Wednesday, police found several of what they believe are bullet marks in the wall of a building about 90 meters (yards) away from the assassination site. Police said they believe the bullets, or fragments of the bullets, from the first shot hit the wall after narrowly missing Abe and piercing through an election vehicle parked nearby. The bullet marks on the wall and in the vehicle match, police said, suggesting they were fired from the same weapon.
Police confiscated the homemade gun that the suspect used to kill Abe when he was arrested. The taped-up 40-centimeter (16-inch) double-barrel gun made of two iron pipes was designed to release several bullets per shot, police said. Police also confiscated several other similar weapons from the suspect's apartment.
Police and Japanese media have suggested that the suspected assassin decided to kill Abe after seeing reports about his ties to the Unification Church. The suspect reportedly was upset because his mother’s massive donations to the church had bankrupted the family.
The assassination of Abe has shed a light on his and his governing party’s links to the Unification Church, which is known for its conservative and anti-communist stances and its mass weddings.
Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the Japanese branch of the South Korean-based church, confirmed on Monday that Yamagami's mother was a member. Tanaka said Abe was not a member but may have spoken to groups affiliated with the church.
Police this week inspected a building related to the church in Nara after the suspect told investigators he had test-fired a homemade gun the day before the assassination to figure out how powerful it would be. They found several holes in the wall of an unrelated office next door, which the suspect might have believed were part of the church, police said.
Abe’s assassination has shaken Japan, one of the world’s safest nations with some of the strictest gun laws. Police have acknowledged possible lapses in guarding Abe and announced plans to set up a taskforce to review safety procedures.
Hundreds of people, some in formal dark suits, filled sidewalks outside Zojoji temple in downtown Tokyo to bid farewell to Abe, whose nationalistic views drove the governing party’s conservative policies.