Unification Church confirms Abe’s suspected mother is a member

TOKYO (Reuters) – A police investigation into the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, head of the country’s branch of the country’s Unification Church, prompted confirmation on Monday that the mother of the murder suspect was a member.

Police have identified Tetsuya Yamagami, a 41-year-old unemployed person, as the suspect who approached Abe and opened fire during his campaign speech on Friday.

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

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The Yomiuri newspaper and other media reported that the suspect told police that his mother had subsequently gone bankrupt.

Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the Japanese branch of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, known as the Unification Church, confirmed to reporters in Tokyo that the suspect’s mother was a church member. He declined to comment on her donations.

Tanaka said that neither Abe nor the suspected killer were members. He said Abe was not a church counselor.

The Unification Church of South Korea was founded in 1954 by Son Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messianic and staunch anti-communist.

It has gained global media attention for mass weddings where thousands of couples get married simultaneously.

The church’s subsidiaries include daily newspapers in South Korea, Japan and the United States. Moon ran a business empire and founded the conservative Washington Times.

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

Abe, who holds conservative views, appeared at an event hosted by a church affiliated organization last September and gave a speech praising the chapter’s work for peace on the Korean Peninsula, according to the church’s website.

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For years, critics have said the church is a cult and questioned what they say are ambiguous financial resources. The Church rejects such views and says it is a legitimate religious movement.

Police confirmed that the suspect said he held a grudge against a particular organisation, but did not name it.

Tetsuya Yamagami, the suspected murderer of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is escorted by a police officer as he is taken to the Public Prosecution Office 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 Yamagami’s mother’s home in Nara on Monday. The White House is tucked away at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in the Mysore neighbourhood, one stop on the train where Abe was shot dead. It doesn’t look like she’s at home. Two uniformed policemen sat outside in an unmarked car.

A next-door neighbor, a woman who gave her surname only Ishi, said that she did not know the family and only greeted the mother at all.

“I don’t see her around much, I say hi, but that’s it,” she said, adding that the mum seemed to be living a quiet life.

Another neighbour, an 87-year-old woman who only mentioned Tanida, said that the mother lived alone for a long time.

Tanaka said Yamagami’s mother first joined the church around 1998 but stopped attending between 2009 and 2017. About two to three years ago, she reconnected with church members, and in the latter half of the year or so, she’d been attending church events once About one a month, he said.

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

On Monday, Nara police said they found what appeared to be bullet holes in a church-run facility, and that the suspect told them he had launched training rounds at the facility the day before Abe was shot.

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Abby’s grandfather

Tanaka said Abe sent messages to events held by church-affiliated institutions and expressed his support for the global peace movement.

Moon, who speaks fluent Japanese, launched an anti-communist group in Japan in the late 1960s, the International Federation for the Victory of Communism, and established ties with Japanese politicians, according to church publications.

The International Federation for the Victory over Communism said on its website that Nobusuke Kishi, my maternal grandfather and former prime minister, was an honorary chief executive at a mass banquet hosted by Moon.

Moon died in 2012. A church spokesman said the church has about 600,000 members in Japan out of 10 million globally.

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Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Go 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 McSwan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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