Suspect in Abe’s mother’s murder is a member of the Unification Church, church says


TOKYO, July 11 (Reuters) – The mother of the man arrested for the murder of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a member of the Unification Church, the head of the Japanese branch said Monday.

Tetsuya Yamagami, an unemployed 41-year-old, has been identified by police as the suspect who approached Abe and opened fire during a campaign speech on Friday.

Yamagami believed that Abe had promoted a religious group to which his mother made a “huge donation,” the Kyodo news agency said, citing research sources.

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Yamagami told police his mother went bankrupt because of the donation, Yomiuri newspaper and other media reported.

Tomihiro Tanaka, chairman of the Japanese branch of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, known as the Unification Church, told reporters in Tokyo that Yamagami’s mother was a church member.

Tanaka declined to comment on her donations, citing the ongoing police investigation.

Neither Abe nor the man arrested for his shooting were members of the church, Tanaka said. Abe was also not an adviser to the church, Tanaka said, adding that it would cooperate with the investigation if asked.

Reuters was unable to contact Yamagami’s mother and could not determine whether she was a member of other religious organizations.

The Unification Church was founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah and fierce anti-communist. It has received worldwide media attention for its mass weddings in which it marries thousands of couples at once.

Church affiliates include newspapers in South Korea, Japan, and the United States. Moon ran a business empire and founded the conservative Washington Times newspaper.

Known for his conservative views, Abe appeared at an event hosted by a church-affiliated organization last September and delivered a speech praising the affiliate’s work for peace in the Korean Peninsula, according to the website of the Church. church.

Critics have argued for years that the Church is a cult and questioned what they believe to be shady finances. The church rejects such views, saying it is a legitimate religious movement.

Police confirmed that the suspect said he held a grudge against a specific organization, but they have not named it.

Tetsuya Yamagami, suspected of killing former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is escorted by a police officer as he is taken to prosecutors at Nara-nishi Police Station in Nara, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on 10 July 2022. Kyodo Mandatory Credit via REUTERS

QUIET LIFE

Reuters visited Yamagami’s mother’s home in Nara on Monday. The White House is tucked away at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in an affluent neighborhood, one stop on the train from where Abe was shot. She turned out not to be home. Two police officers sat outside in an unmarked car.

A neighbor, a woman who only gave her the last name Ishii, said she did not know the family and had only greeted the mother.

“I don’t see her often, I say hello, but that’s all,” she said, adding that the mother seemed to lead a quiet life.

Another neighbor, an 87-year-old woman who only gave her the last name Tanida, said the mother had lived alone for a long time.

Yamagami’s mother first joined the church around 1998, but dropped out between 2009 and 2017, Tanaka said. About two to three years ago, she restored communication with church members, and for the last six months or so, she’s attended church events about once a month, he said.

Tanaka said the church only learned of the mother’s financial problems after she spoke to her loved ones. He said he didn’t know what was causing the trouble.

Nara police said Monday that they found obvious bullet holes in a facility operated by the church, and that the suspect told them he had been firing practice rounds the day before shooting Abe.

Two people who lived near the group’s largest church in Nara Prefecture, which is also closest to Yamagami’s home, told Reuters it had been quiet since Saturday. Normally, weekends are busy with members attending services, they said. They said they hadn’t heard a loud bang.

ABE’S GRANDFATHER

Tanaka said Abe had sent messages to denominational events expressing support for the global peace movement.

Moon, who spoke fluent Japanese, founded an anti-communist group in Japan in the late 1960s, the International Federation for Victory over Communism, and built relationships with Japanese politicians, according to church publications.

Nobusuke Kishi, Abe’s maternal grandfather and former prime minister, was honorary chairman at a group banquet hosted by Moon, the International Federation for Victory Over Communism said on its website.

Moon died in 2012. The Church has about 600,000 members in Japan, out of 10 million worldwide, a church spokesman said.

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Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Ju-min Park in Seoul and Tim Kelly in Nara; Additional reporting by Chang-Ran Kim in Tokyo and Satoshi Sugiyama in Nara; Editing by David Dolan, Kenneth Maxwell and Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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