Man arrested after explosion prompts evacuation of Japanese leader Fumio Kishida from speech venue
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was evacuated unharmed Saturday after an explosion at a venue where he was giving an outdoor speech.
Video footage released by Japan’s public broadcaster NHK showed members of the public fleeing and a man being arrested following the explosion. The footage showed multiple men, believed to be police officers, holding the suspect on the ground. Other pictures showed a silver cylinder that appeared to have been thrown in Kishida’s direction.
Local news agency Kyodo news reported that a man had been arrested after throwing “what appeared to be a smoke bomb.”
The dramatic scenes took place in the city of Wakayama, shortly after a visit by Kishida to the local Saikazaki Fishing Port.
The circumstances surrounding the suspected attack drew immediate comparisons to the assassination of the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was shot in July last year during a campaign speech in the western city of Nara.
The attack on Abe had shocked a nation that is rarely associated with political and gun violence.
Kishida too had been giving a political speech, in his case, in support of his ruling party’s candidate in a local by-election for the House of Representatives in a Wakayama district.
Campaigning is currently underway in Japan’s nationwide local elections.
A city council member who was at the scene told NHK that a “cylindrical silver object” had flown “about two meters in front of me” shortly before the explosion was heard.
Another eyewitness also reported seeing “a silver cylinder,” saying it “was thrown and then shone a bit before a big sound was heard.”
Footage from NHK showed what appeared to be a young man wearing glasses, a mask, and a gray rucksack standing among a crowd of people gathered to see Kishida’s speech.
Before the man is apprehended, he can be seen holding a silver cylinder and making hand gestures as though he is trying to light it, according to NHK.
Japanese officials said later on Saturday that Kishida was safe and unharmed. NHK reported that he had been taken to another location where he was surrounded by police officers who were guarding him.
The broadcaster said a man had been arrested on “suspicion of forcible obstruction of business” and taken to the Wakayama West Police Station for questioning.
In Japan, “forcible obstruction of business” is a crime – “to obstruct another person’s business by force.” It is punishable by a jail term of up to three years and a fine of 500,000 yen.
Wakayama Nishi Police Station officials told CNN that they had secured a suspect but are unable to release the suspect or any other information yet; they said more details would be announced later.
In a speech broadcast on NHK following the attack the prime minister said police were investigating the explosion and apologized for causing concern, adding that “we are fighting an important election for our country.”
Kishida resumed campaigning activities for his ruling Liberal Democratic Party shortly after and gave a speech at the Wakayama railway station.
He is expected to head east to Chiba prefecture on Saturday afternoon and west to the Oita prefecture on Sunday.
His party in a tweet on Saturday said his speeches would be held as scheduled. It too apologized for having “caused everyone concern.”
Any comparisons to the assassination of Abe are likely to prove uncomfortable for Japan’s security establishment.
Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, was shot while giving a campaign speech to a small crowd near a railway station in the city of Nara.
The attack, which took place in broad daylight and involved what appeared to be a homemade weapon, shocked a nation where gun violence is rare and led to heated criticism of the police’s security measures.
The national police chief later resigned following a report by his own agency that found there had been flaws in the protection offered to Abe.
Doctors who tended to Abe revealed that the shot had penetrated all the way to his heart.
A man was arrested following Abe’s death and is currently facing murder and firearms charges.