New twists in Japan assassination probe; Unification Church distances itself from Abe’s killing



New twists in Japan assassination probe; Unification Church distances itself from Abe's killing

Throngs of mourners streamed through a temple in Tokyo to pay respects to Japan’s slain former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, as the widening investigation into his assassination at a campaign rally on Friday brought forth new questions about what may have motivated the accused killer.

Police have revealed the suspect, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, told investigators he wanted to kill Mr. Abe because of the former premier’s rumored connection to an organization that Mr. Yamagami resented.

While police haven’t identified the organization, press accounts identified it as the Japanese branch of the South Korean-based Unification Church and cited Mr. Yamagami’s anger over his mother’s donations as a possible motive for Mr. Abe’s killing. Japan’s Kyodo News reported Monday that the assassin also was acting on “unreliable information on the internet” that Mr. Abe’s grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, had somehow played a role in bringing the Korean church to Japan in the late 1950s.
 
Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the Unification Church’s Japan branch, acknowledged at a news conference in Tokyo on Monday that Mr. Yamagami’s mother was, in fact, a member. But he declined to comment on the specifics of her donations to the church or what may have driven her son to target Mr. Abe, citing the ongoing official investigation.

The developments in the investigation came as Japan continued to mourn on Monday, a day ahead of a private funeral Tuesday for Mr. Abe, who was Japan’s longest-serving prime minister prior to his resignation in 2020 for health reasons.

Mr. Abe’s assassination has overshadowed the weekend’s election win for Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, within which he had been the country’s dominant political figure for years. He was shot at a campaign stop for a LDP candidate in the election.

The governing Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito secured a majority in the parliament’s upper house in elections Sunday that took on new meaning after Mr. Abe was shot to death while campaigning Friday.


SEE ALSO: Biden offers condolences to Japanese Prime Minister Kishida following Abe’s death


LDP officials vowed over the weekend to use the parliamentary victory to achieve Mr. Abe’s unfinished goals, including strengthening the military and revising the country’s pacifist, postwar constitution. The election result means current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida could rule uninterrupted until a scheduled election in 2025 and allows him to work on long-term policies — but the constitutional amendment may still face an uphill battle.

Mr. Kishida has welcomed the victory, but also acknowledged the need to unify the party without Mr. Abe, who even after resigning as prime minister controlled the largest faction within the party and enjoyed an international reputation far greater than his successors.

On Monday evening, a wake was held for Mr. Abe at a Buddhist temple in downtown Tokyo where Mr. Kishida and top former and current political leaders, as well as ordinary mourners, paid tribute. Some broke down in tears.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared in Tokyo Monday in a show of respect to the U.S. ally, meeting with Mr. Kishida to offer condolences and to deliver a letter from President Biden to Mr. Abe’s family.

“I shared with our Japanese colleagues the sense of loss, the sense of shock that we all feel, the American people feel, at this horrific tragedy and killing,” Mr. Blinken told reporters traveling with him. “It’s such a loss too because during his time in office Prime Minister Abe really took the relationship between our countries to new heights.”

“We saw in him something rare — a man of vision who had the ability to realize that vision,” the secretary of state said. “But mostly I came at the president’s behest because, more than allies, we’re friends. And when a friend is hurting, other friends show up.”

Ongoing investigation

Mr. Abe was fatally shot last in the western Japanese city of Nara. Video and photos taken by people in the crowd of the campaign rally show the suspect pulling out a homemade gun. Two smoke-filled blasts were fired. Mr. Abe collapsed and was later declared dead at a hospital.

Mr. Yamagami, who was arrested at the scene of the assassination, remained in police custody Monday while investigators continued to comb for clues about his motive.

Mr. Abe was widely regarded as a nationalist and a conservative who pushed for a restoration of traditional practices in Japan. He is known to have fostered positive ties with a number of faith-based organizations, likely in a bid to win support from conservatives for Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party.

Reuters reported Monday that Mr. Abe served as “supreme adviser” to Nippon Kaigi, a right-wing lobby group that also counts as members many other leading LDP figures. Nippon Kaigi promotes respect for traditional Shinto beliefs, including visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese war dead are buried, including those responsible for Second World War atrocities.
 
But other ties between both Mr. Abe and the LDP and the Unification Church were a trending topic on Japanese social media Saturday, according to Reuters, which reported that many commenters were resurfacing clips of a speech Mr. Abe gave at an event organized by the organization last year, alongside former President Trump and Cambodian leader Hun Sen.

Unification Church representatives cautioned against jumping to conclusions drawn from media speculation.

Mr. Tanaka stressed that the motive behind Mr. Abe’s assassination was unclear.

Speaking in broad terms, he confirmed that some people have made generous donations to the Unification Church, which has had a presence in Japan for decades. But he emphasized that no donors have ever been forced to contribute.

“Trying to understand how such hatred may have possibly led to the killing is totally perplexing,” Mr. Tanaka said.

The church is also known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, founded in South Korea by the late Sun Myung Moon.

Mr. Abe was not a church member, but may have spoken at some events held by affiliated groups, said Mr. Tanaka, who asserted that the assassination “is something that should never have happened.

“I feel a deep outrage,” he said at Monday’s news conference, bowing deeply. “My heart aches that Japan has lost a loved and respected leader.”

Mr. Tanaka said Mr. Yamagami’s mother joined the church in the late 1990s and has recently been participating in church events about once a month. There were years in between during which she did not come at all, he said.

Although the church has had scandals related to donations, compliance measures were set up in 2009, and there have not been any major troubles since then, Mr. Tanaka said.

“The amount of donations is up to each individual,” he said. “We are grateful to those who give large donations, but nothing is required.”

The news conference started with Mr. Tanaka bowing in a solemn moment of prayer. “As a religious leader, I take this extremely seriously,” he said of Mr. Abe’s assassination.

Japanese media reports have claimed Mr. Yamagami’s mother declared bankruptcy in 2002, but Mr. Tanaka said records dating back 20 years couldn’t be confirmed and that details were unknown.

Hak Ja Han Moon, the wife of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, has led the Unification Church since a few years before the 2012 death of Rev. Moon.

The two devoted their lives to the promotion of world peace and the reunification of the Korean Peninsula — the guiding premise of the movement that emerged from the church that Rev. Moon founded in 1954. The ministry grew from a tiny, embattled church in South Korea to a global spiritual movement and an affiliated commercial empire comprising hundreds of ventures in more than a half dozen countries, from hospitals and universities to newspapers, including The Washington Times, and a ballet troupe.

The controversial practices include mass arranged weddings, often pairing followers from different countries, aimed at building a multicultural religious world.

In Japan, famous actresses have joined the church, while politicians courted friendly ties because of the church’s influence. The Japan branch was founded in 1959. Church spokesperson Ahn Ho-yeul said the church has 300,000 believers in Japan and between 150,000 and 200,000 in South Korea.

The majority of Japanese people adhere to a mix of Shinto and Buddhism.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.




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