In a brutal incident that has sent shock waves throughout the nation, opposition lawmaker Koki Ishii was fatally stabbed in front of his house in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward on Friday morning.
Ishii, 61, a House of Representatives lawmaker of the Democratic Party of Japan, was stabbed at around 10:40 a.m. as he was getting into his car, police said.
He was rushed to a hospital in Meguro Ward but was pronounced dead shortly after midday. He had sustained one stab wound to his chest and a 5-cm-long cut to his chin.
Investigators said they are searching for Ishii’s male attacker, who was described as being in his 50s and about 170 cm tall. The man was reportedly wearing a bandanna when the attack took place.
According to staffers at Ishii’s office, the lawmaker was stabbed in the chest while trying to get into his official car on his way to attend a meeting with his supporters in the ward. Ishi’s secretary and driver were in the car when the incident occurred.
The driver, who had been assigned to Ishii earlier this month following the lawmaker’s appointment as chairman of the Lower House Special Committee on Disaster Prevention, told the police he had never seen the attacker before and had assumed that he was a supporter as he approached the car.
Following the car’s arrival at Ishii’s home at around 10:20 a.m., the man approached the house and waited behind the vehicle, according to police.
Neighbors told investigators that they had seen a man wearing a bandanna watching Ishii’s home from around 8:50 a.m. and that a man fitting this description had also been seen in the vicinity over the past few days.
The suspected murder weapon — a kitchen knife with a blade measuring 30 cm — was found on the road outside the house, investigators said.
Neighbors said they heard Ishii shouting at someone, then heard him screaming.
His wife, Natalia, was in the house at the time of the attack, police said. She came out to see what had happened and saw her husband lying on the ground, they said.
Most Diet members are not placed under 24-hour police protection. Those that are provided with a 24-hour police guard outside their homes are the prime minister, the heads of both Diet houses, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Cabinet ministers and top officials within the major political parties.
Although Ishii was not provided with a full-time guard, police officers patrolled the area near his home. He often slept at a Diet members’ dormitory rather than at home.
There was no immediate proof of a motive, but police said they are exploring the possibility of a political motive, given Ishii’s reputation for exposing cash scandals in this arena.
Ishii also played an active role in exposing the activities of the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Russia. Before becoming a lawmaker, he studied law and philosophy at the postgraduate school of Moscow University.
His death prompted lawmakers from across the political spectrum to denounce the use of violence against lawmakers in a democratic state.
Commenting on the murder, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi castigated the use of violence against politicians, particularly when the Diet is in session.
“Under no circumstances should attempts to suppress political activities or erase politicians with violence be allowed,” Koizumi told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence. “I feel strong resentment toward the incident.”
Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said, “It is abnormal for a Diet member to be killed by violence.”
DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama, who heard the news while stumping in Niigata Prefecture, voiced anger at the killing and offered his condolences to the bereaved.
“Mr. Ishii did not forgive injustice, did not let great evil go unpunished and was well-known for his piercing questions in the Diet,” Hatoyama said in a statement issued later in the day. “I feel strong rage toward the culprit and toward violence.”
The DPJ, Japan’s main opposition party, issued a statement in the afternoon urging investigative authorities to do their utmost to unravel the mystery and arrest the culprit.
The party condemned the attacker, stating that it was “absolutely unforgivable” to suppress political activities through acts of violence.
Taku Yamasaki, secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, issued a statement expressing surprise at the news and calling for a swift conclusion to the investigation.
“While we do not yet know the circumstances behind the incident, we must never condone acts that suppress speech using such lawless violence,” he said.
Mitsuo Horiuchi, chairman of the LDP Executive Council, said it is unbelievable that such an incident could take place in a nation governed by the rule of law.
Takenori Kanzaki, head of ruling coalition partner New Komeito, slammed the attack as “inexcusable.”
“It is all the more regrettable because (Ishii) was a very competent person, and I would like investigative authorities to do its utmost to arrest the attacker,” he said.
Ishii is the third Diet lawmaker to be murdered in the postwar era. Inejiro Asanuma, chairman of the now-disbanded Japan Socialist Party, was stabbed to death in October 1960 by a rightist, while former Labor Minister Hyosuke Niwa was stabbed in October 1990 and later died from his wounds.
He was first elected from a Tokyo constituency to serve as a Lower House member for the now-defunct Japan New Party in 1993, later joining the DPJ. He was serving his third term.
A by-election for Ishii’s Diet seat will be held on April 27.