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Abe's fatal shooting continues to ripple through Japan a month on

People walk on Aug. 8, 2022, near the location of the July 8 assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Nara, western Japan. (Kyodo)

NARA, Japan (Kyodo) -- The fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continues to ripple through Japan a month on, with many returning to the site of the attack Monday to pay their respects and investigators working to unravel the motive of the assailant.

    In the western city of Nara, flowers were placed at the traffic island near the train station where Abe was shot at close range during a campaign speech on July 8, with commuters also stopping to offer prayers.

    "I cannot find words," a woman in her 50s said, while a man in his 50s praised the former prime minister as a man who changed Japan, criticizing the inadequate security measures at the time of the speech.

    The assassination of one of the most powerful politicians in Japan has sent shockwaves across the country, where gun violence is extremely rare.

    Nara Mayor Gen Nakagawa said he is searching for the best way possible to commemorate Abe.

    "I feel responsible for letting it happen in the city of which I am the mayor," Nakagawa told Kyodo News. "What could I have done to prevent it? I think about it every day."

    Nakagawa, who was standing close to Abe, said he is considering re-examining an ongoing redevelopment project in front of Kintetsu Railway Yamato-Saidaiji Station near the site of the slaying. He plans to reach a conclusion in September.

    The mayor said many city residents have expressed their desire for a monument or a spot to lay flowers so they can commemorate Japan's longest-serving prime minister.

    "This incident will go down as a turning point in history," Nakagawa said. "We want to leave behind something tangible that conveys the challenges this has presented us with."

    But others have said they do not want any form of memorial at the scene of the crime as they do not wish to be reminded of the horrific event, according to Nakagawa.

    The assailant, Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, approached Abe from behind and fired twice, first from about 7 meters away and again three seconds later from about 5 meters away, according to investigative sources.

    Abe's death was confirmed hours later as due to blood loss from gunshot wounds sustained in the attack.

    Yamagami has told investigators that he harbors a grudge against the Unification Church that he believes the former prime minister had links with.

    The suspect has said his mother's huge donations to the church had ruined his family's finances and that Abe's grandfather, former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, helped bring the group, founded in 1954 in South Korea, to Japan.

    Several of the church's "evangelism manuals" from the 1980s and 1990s obtained by Kyodo News show that it taught followers to conceal the name and doctrine of the religious group when recruiting members.

    The Unification Church has denied any involvement in creating the manuals, claiming that they were written by individual members of their own volition, and that it is not aware of their contents or usage.

    In addition to elucidating the type of people the church should target, the manuals emphasize "emotional exchanges," teaching followers to contact the potential members regularly and take them to the group's educational facilities so they can "grow as human beings."

    The church, now formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, said that Yamagami's mother, who joined around 1991, began participating in events after being introduced to the group by a follower who visited her home.

    The Nara District Court has approved the request of prosecutors to continue holding Yamagami in custody until Nov. 29 for a psychiatric evaluation.

    Tomoyuki Mizuno, a former judge and professor of criminal law at Hosei University Law School, said Yamagami's careful preparation is indicative of a mental capacity that shows he was responsible for his actions. However, he did question what the accused had sought to achieve by taking out his resentment toward the Unification Church on Abe.

    Naotsugu Hirabayashi, a director at the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry, likened the case to the 2008 murders of a former top health ministry bureaucrat and his wife, in which the assailant had cited revenge against authorities for exterminating his dog as his motive.

    The defendant, who also attempted to kill the wife of another chief bureaucrat the following day, was found criminally liable and sentenced to death in that case.

    But Hirabayashi said, "In general, if the motive was delusional from the start, then the defendant's responsibility may be diminished even if the crime was premeditated."

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