Fishermen in Japanese PM attack reacted quickly to swarm suspects

WAKAYAMA, Japan (AP) — As soon as Tsutomu Konishi noticed an object flying over his head and landing near Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a campaign rally in this fishing port, he and a group of other fishermen gushed about the man, whom officials later identified as a suspect in the attack.

As a security guard covered the object with a bulletproof briefcase, one of the fishermen grabbed the man’s neck from behind, another pushed his head down, and Konishi clung to his leg. They held the man as police dragged him to the ground.

Moments later on Saturday, there was an explosion and the crowd fled in panic as officers dragged away the suspect, a man with a silver backpack.

The team effort of the fishermen in this tight-knit community has garnered attention on Japan’s social media, leading many to wonder if they were plainclothes police officers.

Senior members of the fishing community say they and police were fully prepared to welcome the prime minister on his first visit to the region, but there was criticism from some who said security measures could have been tighter, particularly after the ensuing national debate the assassination of former leader Shinzo Abe last July.

Political cartoons about world leaders

Political cartoons


“I never thought such a crime would ever happen in my hometown, which is a fairly small fishing area,” Konishi, 41, said in an interview on Sunday while sipping on a can of coffee at Saikazaki port on the day off, as the police continued their investigation into the port facility. “I’m still shocked and stunned,” he said of what happened to Kishida.

Perfect security may be difficult, but “at a time when Japan’s acting prime minister was visiting, we might have needed a metal detector,” Konishi said.

Police arrested 24-year-old Ryuji Nakamura on suspicion of throwing a metal pipe explosive at Kishida.

A Wakayama Prefectural investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity due to department rules, said Kishida was safely evacuated before the blast. Only one person, a police officer, was injured, his arm was cut off by fragments of the possible pipe bomb, which did not fully detonate.

Police dispatched a special explosives counter-squad to the suspect’s home in Hyogo Prefecture to look for evidence of bomb-making. Officials have shown a sense of urgency in demonstrating their commitment to security ahead of statewide municipal elections later this month. Japan is also hosting a series of Group of Seven meetings ahead of the May 19-21 Leaders’ Summit in Hiroshima. Diplomats arrived in Karuizawa on Sunday for the G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting.

Isao Itabashi, a public security expert, told NHK TV that the latest attack should be taken seriously as the loss of the prime minister could cripple the country’s administrative functions and “potentially shake international confidence in Japan.”

Itabashi also said the attack raised questions about how election campaigns should be conducted. Guarding top politicians during election campaigns is logistically difficult, and it’s also difficult to reconcile tight security with a free election, he said.

Masaki Nishide, a 55-year-old fisherman from Saikazaki, said most of the people at Saturday’s event were local residents and supporters of the local candidate. He said the young man with the silver backpack caught his eye.

“People here all dress like me and nobody wears a backpack; it was just him,” said Nishide, who was wearing a tracksuit and red wellies. “If I was in charge of security, I would have asked for a bag check.”

Kiyotaka Hamada, 70, a senior member of the local fisheries association, said he felt something hit his shoulder when he heard the bang and ran from the scene. Police took his jacket to see if he might have been hit by an explosive fragment. “I just want to ask the suspect why he had to come here to cause trouble,” he said.

For Hamada and other fishermen, there are also concerns about the expected loss of income from the days they are unable to work while port facilities are closed for inspection.

“We put so much effort across the village to welcome the prime minister on his first ever visit here,” Hamada said. “Now we can’t even go out to sea.”

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