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3 police officers behind Japan ex-PM Abe on day of shooting didn't notice suspect: source

Nara Prefectural Police headquarters (Mainichi/Narumi Nakatsu)

TOKYO -- None of three police officers assigned to protecting the area behind former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a July 8 street speech noticed the man accused of assassinating him before Abe was shot, a source close to the case told the Mainichi Shimbun.

    The source with knowledge of the security arrangements for Abe's election campaign speech in the city of Nara said that suspect Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, went unobserved by the three Nara Prefectural Police officers because they were watching the rapidly growing crowd in front of the 67-year-old former prime minister. Yamagami has been sent to prosecutors on suspicion of killing Abe.

    It is believed that the prefectural police's security plan did not give significant attention to the danger Abe could be shot from behind, and that there were problems with the number of officers and their deployment. The National Police Agency (NPA) plans to finalize its investigation by the end of August and create measures to prevent recurrence.

    Abe was shot at around 11:30 a.m. on July 8 at the intersection at the north exit of Kintetsu Railway's Yamato-Saidaiji Station in Nara. The suspect, who was on the sidewalk to the rear and right of Abe, moved along the walkway beside a bus roundabout after the election speech began, and allegedly fired a hand-made gun twice as he went through a break in the walkway fence onto the roundabout.

    According to investigators, more than a dozen police officers were on site to provide security. Among them, four officers including a Metropolitan Police Department security detail from Tokyo were inside the guardrail where Abe was giving his speech, one of whom -- a Nara Prefectural Police officer -- was guarding the rear.

    In addition, one Nara officer, who headed the security team, was stationed as an observer near the sidewalk where Yamagami was standing at the beginning of the speech, and another officer was on guard where he moved around the roundabout. These two officers were tasked with guarding not only the rear but the entire area.

    The officer posted behind Abe within the guardrail began to track possible threats not only in the rear but in the growing crowd in front. Furthermore, just prior to the attack, the officer had been paying attention to bicycles and carts passing on the road behind the scene, and did not notice Yamagami until the first shot was fired.

    The supervising officer also reportedly failed to notice the movements of the suspect shortly before the shooting, as he began to focus more on the front than the rear of the site, as did the officer at the roundabout.

    At the time of the attack, there were about 300 people in front of Abe, but few in the rear. In addition, there were vehicles passing in the roadway behind the former prime minister, and it seems that the prefectural police believed that it would difficult for an assailant to approach from that direction. The entire security detail was made up of plainclothes officers.

    The same security arrangements were applied when ruling Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi made an election speech at the same location on June 25, but there was no trouble. This may have led to the security decisions for Abe's July 8 speech. A person close to the police commented, "It's hard to say that the (security) plan was made assuming a shooting."

    The NPA's "verification and review team" is investigating security problems and other issues surrounding the shooting. It is interviewing the senior prefectural police officials involved in formulating the security plan, as well as officers who were on the scene.

    (Japanese original by Atsushi Matsumoto, Tokyo City News Department)

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