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Suspect in Abe’s mother’s murder is a member of the Unification Church founded by Sun Myung Moon

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TOKYO – The mother of the man arrested for the murder of former Japanese leader Shinzo Abe is a member of the Unification Church, the church head in Japan said Monday.

Tetsuya Yamagami, an unemployed 41-year-old, was identified by police as the suspect who approached Abe and opened fire during a campaign speech on Friday, an attack captured on video that shocked a country where gun violence is rare.

Yamagami believed that Abe had promoted a religious group to which his mother made a “huge donation,” the Kyodo news agency said, citing research sources. Yamagami told police his mother went bankrupt because of the donation, Yomiuri newspaper and other media reported.

Tomihiro Tanaka, chairman of the Japanese branch of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, known as the Unification Church, told reporters at a briefing in Tokyo that Yamagami’s mother was a member of the Church. He didn’t give her name.

Tanaka declined to comment on her donations, citing the ongoing police investigation.

Tetsuya Yamagami, who confessed to shooting former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was taken into police custody on Sunday. Nobuki Ito / AP

Neither Abe nor the man arrested for his shooting were members of the church, Tanaka said. Abe was also not an adviser to the church, Tanaka said, adding that the church would cooperate with the investigation if asked.

Abe appeared at an event hosted by a church-affiliated organization last September, where he delivered a speech praising the affiliate’s work for peace in the Korean peninsula, according to the church’s website.

Reuters was unable to immediately contact Yamagami’s mother and could not determine whether she was a member of other religious organizations.

Police confirmed that the suspect said he held a grudge against a specific organization but did not name it.

Yamagami’s mother first joined the church around 1998, but stopped attending between 2009 and 2017, Tanaka said. About two to three years ago, she restored communication with church members, and for the last six months or so, she’s been attending church events at a frequency of about once a month, he said.

The Unification Church was founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon, a self-proclaimed messiah and fierce anti-communist. It has received worldwide media attention for its mass weddings in which it marries thousands of couples at once.

Moon, who spoke fluent Japanese, launched an anti-communist political campaign in Japan beginning in the late 1960s and built relationships with Japanese politicians, according to Church publications.

Moon died in 2012. The Church has about 600,000 members in Japan, out of 10 million worldwide, Tanaka said.

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