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Japanese police chiefs resign over security lapses in Abe assassination

National Police Agency Chief Itaru Nakamura in Tokyo on July 12. Nakamura said Thursday he would resign over security lapses in the fatal shooting of former Japanese leader Shinzo Abe. (Kyodo News/AP)
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TOKYO — Top Japanese police officials said Thursday they would resign after an investigation identified security lapses at a political campaign event last month in which former prime minister Shinzo Abe was slain by a gunman who approached him from behind.

Itaru Nakamura, the commissioner of Japan’s National Police Agency, took responsibility for the failures and announced his departure, marking a rare move by a national law enforcement official to step down in the aftermath of a local agency’s lapses. The cabinet is expected to accept Nakamura’s resignation Friday.

Tomoaki Onizuka, chief of prefectural police in Nara, the city near Osaka where Abe was killed, also announced his resignation but did not say when it would be effective. Three other Nara police executives will face disciplinary measures, including a pay cut.

What are Japan’s gun laws? Abe killing shocks nation with few shootings.

The resignations underscored the depth of horror at Abe’s killing and its global reverberations. The shooting rocked a country with strict firearms laws where gun violence is almost unheard of. World leaders who had worked closely with Abe expressed shock at his assassination and praised his efforts over a long period to increase his country’s international influence.

On July 8, a man wielding a crude, homemade gun fired two shots at Abe while he was stumping for a political candidate ahead of a national election. The bullets hit Abe in his neck area, near his chest, and he died of blood loss less than five hours after arriving at a hospital without vital signs.

According to the National Police Agency’s investigative report released Thursday, Nara police officials had prepared a lax security plan ahead of the event and failed to properly guard Abe. Onizuka had previously said Nara police were informed of Abe’s appearance just a day before — shorter notice than usual for a campaign event. Onizuka had approved the security plan on the day of the event and had no concerns with it at the time.

The investigation found problems with the plan that Onizuka approved and with security on the ground the day of the shooting. It found a member of the security team, tasked with guarding Abe from behind, was moved at the last minute to a different position. Ultimately, there was heavy security in front of Abe but no one to protect him from behind.

“There were clear inadequacies in the security plan, and security personnel were not deployed properly, leading to a gap in security from behind,” the report read. “It was clear that there were security risks, but these risks were overlooked in the process of developing the security plan which was clearly inadequate.”

Japan probes Abe assassination motive as police chief admits ‘problems’

The National Police Agency said it will now be more heavily involved in security plans prepared by local police forces and create a division tasked with vetting security plans for major public events.

The suspect in Abe’s killing, Tetsuya Yamagami of Nara, was arrested immediately on the scene. He is now detained and undergoing psychiatric evaluations until late November, when prosecutors will decide whether to press formal murder charges.

Yamagami, 41, told investigators he wanted to attack Abe because he believed Abe was connected to a group that destroyed his family financially. Police have not named the organization, but Yamagami’s statements and other evidence suggest it was the Unification Church, which has confirmed that Yamagami’s mother was a member and had made donations.

Abe, like many politicians, had appeared at Unification Church events as a guest speaker. His party, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has long enjoyed support from conservative-leaning members of the church.

Since Abe’s shooting, LDP members have worked to distance themselves from the organization. But Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has faced plummeting poll numbers as he struggles to disentangle ties between the group and his party.