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Japan extends detention for Abe’s alleged assassin

TOKYO (AP) – Japanese authorities have obtained court approval to extend the detention of the suspect in former prime minister Shinzo Abe’s assassination earlier this month for 10 more days until they file formal charges.

Abe, one of Japan’s most influential politicians, was assassinated on July 8 in the western city of Nara, shocking a nation known for safety and strict gun control.

The alleged assassin, Tetsuya Yamagami, 41, was arrested immediately after the shooting and has been held for questioning. He can be detained until July 29, when prosecutors must decide whether to formally press murder charges.

Nara prefectural police have said Yamagami, who had served in the Japanese navy in the early 2000s, told investigators that he killed Abe because of rumoured links between the former prime minister and a religious group that he hated.

Yamagami reportedly was distressed because his mother’s massive donations to the Unification Church bankrupted the family.

People offer flowers at a memorial area near the site where former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was fatally shot in Nara, western Japan. PHOTO: AP

Over the weekend, police obtained a letter they believe Yamagami had mailed to a journalist before the attack, describing how his mother’s overspending destroyed and bankrupted his family because of her devotion to the church.

In the typed, one-page letter, the suspect allegedly said Abe was not his essential target even though he felt bitter toward him.

He said that Abe was just one of the “sympathisers” of the church and that it would be impossible to kill all members of the church’s founding family – hinting at his decision to target Abe instead.

Yamagami allegedly said in the letter that he no longer had capacity to think about political consequences Abe’s death may cause.

Police have said the suspect had test-fired his powerful handmade guns at least twice – in the mountains and targetting a local branch of the Unification Church.

On Tuesday, head of the Maritime Self Defence Force Ryo Sakai told reporters that his troops were fully cooperating with investigations.

Yamagami, who was assigned to a destroyer based at Hiroshima, likely acquired more knowledge of firearms than ordinary citizens, even though navy training does not involve handmade guns.

Senior Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers called for members to prepare for a state funeral for Abe.

A smaller funeral was held last Tuesday and Abe was cremated, but Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced plans for a state funeral in the fall that will also serve as a diplomatic gathering.