The Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has escaped unhurt after he was apparently targeted by an explosive device on Saturday morning. It comes less than a year after the country’s former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was shot dead while making a campaign speech.
Kishida was safely evacuated after the incident, while a suspect – named by Japanese media as Ryuji Kimura, 24, a resident of Hyogo prefecture – was arrested at the scene, reports said.
Kishida was visiting Saikazaki port in Wakayama prefecture, western Japan, to support his ruling Liberal Democratic party’s candidate in a local election when a device exploded.
TV footage showed what appeared to be a pipe- or smoke-bomb flying through the air in Kishida’s direction moments before he was due to start his speech. He was shielded by security personnel, while a video clip appeared to show a fisherman tussling with the suspect.
Kishida was seen standing with his back to the crowd in TV footage. When members of his security detail suddenly pointed to the ground near him, he turned around, looking alarmed. The camera quickly switched to the crowd as several people, including uniformed and plainclothes police officers, converged on the suspect, who was wearing a white surgical mask and holding what appeared to be a long silver tube.
As they collapsed on top of the man and tried to remove the tube from his hands, a large explosion was heard near where Kishida had been standing. The crowd scattered in panic as police dragged the man away.
The explosion sent out plumes of white smoke. Footage and photos from the scene showed a silver, pipe-like object on the ground, but it was not immediately clear whether it had caused the blast.
Japan’s public broadcaster NHK said no one was injured in the attack, and Kishida was taken to the Wakayama prefectural police headquarters.
When he resumed his campaign speeches, Kishida said: “Police are investigating the details of the loud explosive sound at the previous speech venue. I am sorry for causing concern to many people. We are in the middle of an important election for our country. We must carry on together.”
Parliamentary byelections and local elections are being held in Japan later this month.
The incident comes only nine months after Abe – Japan’s longest-serving prime minister – was assassinated while delivering a campaign speech in the western city of Nara. The assassination shocked Japan, where gun crime is rare. An investigation found serious flaws in Abe’s security and led to heightened security around politicians and other public figures.
Saturday’s attack occurred as Japan, which holds the G7 presidency, prepared to host a series of international summits, beginning with a meeting of foreign ministers this Sunday and culminating ina leaders’ summit in Hiroshima in May.
Isao Itabashi, an anti-terrorism expert at the Council for Public Policy, told NHK: “The fact that an incident like this happened at this time must be taken seriously.”
Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Hirokazu Matsuno, refused to comment on the suspect’s possible motive, telling reporters that a police investigation was under way.
Matsuno said: “Elections are the core of democracy and we should never tolerate threats or obstruction by violence, and I believe [continuing on with his campaign schedule] was the prime minister’s judgment in that context.”
One witness said some people in the crowd panicked after they realised what was unfolding. She told NHK: “I ran frantically, and then 10 or so seconds later, there was a loud sound and my child started crying. I was stunned. My heart is still racing.”
Another said he heard screams and saw someone, believed to be Kimura, being apprehended shortly before the device exploded.
A man at the scene told NHK: “When we all stopped in front of the podium, someone started saying ‘culprit’ or something, or ‘an explosive was thrown’, so everyone started dispersing fast. And then, about 10 seconds after the culprit was captured, there was a blast.”