“There is a long distance between resentment against our association and the assassination of former Prime Minister Abe,” Tomihiro Tanaka, head of the Japan office of the Federation of Families for World Peace and Unification, told a news conference on Monday.
“We are struggling to understand why this happened. We will fully cooperate with the police to uncover his motives,” he added.
Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who served as prime minister from 1957 to 1960, was targeted for assassination in his final year as prime minister, though he survived after being stabbed six times.
“I had a grudge against a certain religious group and I thought former Prime Minister Abe had a close relationship with that group,” Yamagami said. “My mother got into the group and made a big donation and my family life got messed up.”
CNN was unable to independently confirm which group Yamagami was referring to, or any links between Abe and any group the suspect harbored hatred for.
However, on Monday, the chairman of the Japan office of the Unification Church stated that Yamagami’s mother was a member and attended her events about once a month.
But Yamagami himself was never a member of the church, Tanaka said in a statement.
At a press conference later Monday, Tanaka said he learned the suspect’s mother was having financial difficulties around 2002, but added, “We don’t know what the reasons were or how they affected family circumstances.”
CNN was unable to locate Yamagami’s mother for comment, determine if she had legal representation, or confirm if she was affiliated with a church, a group that was founded in South Korea and gained worldwide fame for their mass weddings, including in Madison Square Garden in New York.
Tanaka also denied that Abe’s grandfather played any role in the expansion of the Unification Church, stating that Kishi did not take “any special measures at all and did not have much influence on the spread of the religion”.
The church received a message of support from Abe at an event she organized, Tanaka said, but the former prime minister was not a registered member of the church and was not on its advisory board.
What is the Unification Church?
The Unification Church, originally known as the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, was founded by Sun Myung Moon in 1954. It rose to prominence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in an era of turmoil in time to transform itself from a poor country torn apart by civil war to one of the most modern economies in the world.
By the 1980s, the church had a global reach and remains prominent in parts of Asia today. It continues to make world headlines with its mass weddings, in which thousands of young couples tie the knot at the same time, with some brides and grooms meeting each other for the first time on their wedding day.
Moon, known to followers as “Father Moon”, died in South Korea in 2012 at the age of 92.
Who is Tetsuya Yamagami?
Details of the murder continue to emerge as Japanese authorities investigate suspect Tetsuya Yamagami.
Yamagami told investigators he “decided” to kill Abe a year ago, NHK reported citing “investigative sources” on Monday.
According to the NHK, Yamagami used a makeshift weapon that he practiced shooting in the mountains in the days before the murder. The firearm “fitted his purpose of killing Abe by all means,” Yamagami said, according to NHK.
Nara police said on Monday that Yamagami may have carried out a test shooting early Thursday morning, the day before Abe’s assassination, against a “certain group” building in Nara Prefecture.
CNN visited the building on Monday, where the entrance was clearly marked with a sign that read “Family Federation for World Peace and Unity.”
The building was covered with a blue tarpaulin and guarded by two police officers, who confirmed that it was the site of a “dangerous” firearms incident under investigation.
CNN was unable to see the gunshot marks on the front of the building and received no clear confirmation from the police at the scene that Yamagami was involved in the incident under investigation.
On Monday, Nara police investigators told CNN that Yamagami is cooperating but showing no remorse.
Asked if the suspect worked alone, police said they were investigating all possible options.
Abe’s funeral was organized by his widow Aki Abe at a temple in Tokyo on Tuesday, and was attended only by family members and people close to the former prime minister.