Security arrangements at murder site criticized

Provided by an eyewitness
Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks in Nara City on Friday. Part of the image has been obscured.

Despite the presence of police officers, a man was able to approach and fatally shoot former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a street speech in Nara City on Friday. It seems likely that there were problems with the security system and personal protection measures at the scene.

Walking from the rear

The venue for the street speech, part of the campaign for Sunday’s House of Councillors election, was in front of Kintetsu Railway Co.’s Yamato-Saidaiji Station, near a large commercial complex. The spot is well trafficked and has been used frequently in the past for campaign speeches.

Abe stood for his speech in a guardrail-enclosed area between the sidewalk and the roadway. Behind him was the roadway, with cars driving on it. Abe was on a platform, speaking to the audience in front of him.

According to eyewitness accounts and video posted on social media, the suspect, Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, who fired the shots, appeared to listen to the speech for a while, a dozen meters away across the roadway behind Abe. He then walked across the roadway and slowly approached Abe from behind. He opened fire without being stopped by police officers.

A former police official familiar with security for dignitaries said: “Why did they choose a place with such an open backdrop for the venue? The risk of being targeted from a 360-degree angle is high even at first glance.”

An active police official said: “As soon as the suspect stepped out onto the roadway, the police officers should have called out to him. I have to say that it was completely the fault of the police.”

Distance from audience

According to the National Police Agency, the Nara prefectural police had set up a security system in response to the arrival of Abe and others. Uniformed police officers were on guard, as well as prefectural police security personnel and one security police officer from the Metropolitan Police Department, who were on the lookout for threats to Abe.

Security for election speeches is said to be “one of the most difficult security tasks” even within the police force because such speeches attract large audiences of unknown people. Speakers come into close proximity with the spectators, even shaking hands and taking photos with them. Moreover, it is difficult to inspect baggage if the speeches are given outdoors.

One Metropolitan Police Department senior officer who has been involved in numerous security operations said, “We have to keep the crowd away from the candidates, but at the same time, the candidates want to meet the voters, so it is difficult to strike a balance.”

Furthermore, in order to attract a larger audience, many street speeches are preceded by advance notice of a famous politician’s arrival, with statements such as, “The prime minister will be here.” In this case, too, the schedule for the speech was announced on the Liberal Democratic Party’s website at around 7 p.m. on Thursday, the day before the event.

The schedule is often changed at short notice, and security plans such as the deployment of police officers and securing the arrival and departure routes must be made in a short period of time. Abe had been scheduled to lend his support in another constituency at that time, but his schedule was changed to Nara Prefecture the day before.

Need for thorough review

In principle, Cabinet ministers, ruling and opposition party senior officials, and former prime ministers have been assigned a security police officer from the Metropolitan Police Department to provide personal protection. The security arrangements vary depending on the person to be protected.

Abe, an iconic conservative politician, gained support for his active comments on politics and the state of the nation, but he also had many detractors. During his tenure as prime minister, he had to keep his scheduled speeches under wraps to avoid potential chaos caused by crowds of detractors turning up at the venues. Recently, however, his schedule had been publicized in the same manner as other party officials, leading some to believe that the police and other officials may have let their guard down as time passed since he left the prime minister’s office.

In response to the incident, the National Police Agency issued written and verbal instructions to police forces nationwide to strengthen security measures. A former senior police official said, “We believe that the incident was not caused by special factors such as personal problems of the suspect, but by a combination of various factors, and we need to conduct a thorough investigation.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun