TOKYO — The man accused of murdering former Japanese leader Shinzo Abe on Friday told investigators he believed Abe was connected to a religious group he blamed for his mother’s financial woes. On Sunday, a Tokyo-based representative of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, which in Japan was previously called the Unification Church of Japan, confirmed that the man’s mother was a member. .
The suspect’s mother remains a member but has not shown up at recent rallies, said the rep, who was reached at the Tokyo office’s phone number but declined to be named, citing privacy concerns as part of of the ongoing criminal investigation.
The suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, of Nara, told investigators he shot Abe because he believed he was connected to a group he hated, Nara police said during a a press briefing.
Japanese media, citing law enforcement sources, later reported that Yamagami told investigators it was a religious group his mother had given money to. Yamagami told investigators his mother went bankrupt after the donations, according to Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, citing law enforcement sources. He said his family fell apart because of his mother’s obsession with the group and that he targeted Abe “out of resentment”, the newspaper reported.
The church representative said he had no information about the mother’s donations and that the organization was looking into what donations she might have made to the Nara branch. The Nara branch and the Nara police were not immediately reachable by phone on Sunday. The church official identified the suspect’s mother as Yoko Yamagami.
It is not known if Yoko Yamagami was a member of several religious organizations. Japanese reports said Tetsuya Yamagami wanted to kill the leader of a religious group that investigators declined to name but decided to target Abe instead. Abe was looking for a member of his political party in Nara, east of Osaka, when he was shot and killed.
The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification is the name of the controversial organization known as the Unification Church, which is now controlled by Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s widow.
The Unification Church’s U.S. office said in a statement on Saturday that the group condemns the violence and that “guns have no place in our religious beliefs or practices.”
“The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification (commonly referred to as the ‘Unification Church’) would like to express our shock and sorrow at the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Our thoughts and our prayers are with his family in the aftermath of this tragedy,” the statement read.
Abe, like many other world leaders, including former US President Donald Trump, has appeared at Unification Church-related events as a paid speaker. Most recently, he spoke on a September 2021 broadcast via video link.
The Unification Church is one of many new religions active in Japan. Members of the organization provided a reliable base of staunchly conservative voters for Japan’s ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), of which Abe was a member, said Jeffrey J. Hall, an expert on nationalist activism at the Kanda International University. Studies.
“They are not the only bloc of religious and conservative voters voting for the LDP, but they are part of it,” Hall said.
The headquarters of the PLD was not immediately reachable by telephone on Sunday.
Japanese mainstream media has yet to name the religious organization that Yoko Yamagami was a member of. Kyodo News confirmed on Sunday that an official of the religious group Tetsuya Yamagami was referring to confirmed his membership, but did not name the group.
A police investigation is ongoing into the suspect’s motives, the homemade weapon he allegedly used and the security protocols in place during the Nara event.
The upper house election also takes place on Sunday. A victory for the LDP, of which Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is a member, would pave the way for Kishida to adopt some of his most ambitious and controversial policies in the years to come.
Later Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will make an unscheduled stop in Tokyo to pay his respects to Abe, the State Department said.
Blinken is in Southeast Asia for meetings with world leaders. The State Department did not specify which officials Blinken will meet while in Tokyo.
“Secretary Blinken will travel to Tokyo, Japan to offer condolences to the Japanese people on the passing of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and to meet with senior Japanese officials. The U.S.-Japan alliance is the cornerstone cornerstone of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and has never been stronger,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Sunday.
Blinken is expected to leave Bangkok for Tokyo on Sunday evening local time.
John Hudson of The Washington Post in Bangkok contributed to this report.