Abe murder suspect’s mother 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 its Japanese branch said on Monday.

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

Yamagami believed Abe had promoted a religious group to which his mother had made a “huge donation”, Kyodo News Agency said, citing investigative sources.

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

Tomihiro Tanaka, president 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 member of the church.

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

Neither Abe nor the man arrested for the shooting were members of the church, Tanaka said. Abe was also not a church counselor, Tanaka said, adding that she would cooperate with police in the investigation if asked to do so.

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

The Unification Church was founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah and outspoken anti-Communist. He has gained worldwide media attention for his mass weddings where he marries thousands of couples at once.

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

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

Critics have for years said the church is a cult and question what they say are troubled finances. The church rejects such views and says it is a legitimate religious movement.

Police confirmed that the suspect said he was angry with a specific organization, but they did not name it.

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

A QUIET LIFE

Reuters visited the home of Yamagami’s mother 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 from the train from where Abe was shot. She didn’t seem to be home. Two policemen were sitting outside in an unmarked car.

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

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

Another neighbour, an 87-year-old woman who only gave her surname Tanida, said the mother had been living alone for a long time.

Yamagami’s mother first joined the church around 1998, but stopped attending the church between 2009 and 2017, Tanaka said. About two or three years ago she re-established communication with church members and for the past six months has attended religious events about once a month, he said.

Tanaka said the church only learned of the mother’s financial struggles after speaking to those close to her. He said he did not know what caused these difficulties.

Nara police said on Monday they found apparent bullet holes at a church-run facility and the suspect told them he had fired practice bullets at the facility the day before he was killed. shot 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 had not heard loud bangs, they said.

ABE’S GRANDFATHER

Tanaka said Abe messaged at events organized by church affiliates and expressed support for his global peace movement.

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

Nobusuke Kishi, Abe’s maternal grandfather and former prime minister, was honorary executive chairman at a group banquet hosted by Moon, the International Federation for the 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 spokesperson 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

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