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Extremist Held in Fatal Stabbing of Japanese Politico

As nation reels from attack in upscale Tokyo district, authorities reportedly say suspect had quarreled with lawmaker over money.

October 26, 2002|Mark Magnier | Times Staff Writer

TOKYO — A member of a right-wing extremist group was taken into custody in the stabbing death of an opposition lawmaker in front of his house, Japanese media reported today. The attack sent shock waves through a nation where violence against leaders is rare.

Broadcaster NHK said the man was in custody. Kyodo News, citing investigators, said the man had quarreled with the victim several times over money at the lawmaker's office. Police declined to comment.

Koki Ishii, 61, a member of the House of Representatives, was leaving his house around 10:40 a.m. Friday when he was stabbed in the stomach by an assailant wielding a 12-inch blade.

Although such high-profile crimes in other countries tend to involve firearms, strict gun control in Japan means that a sword or knife is traditionally the weapon of choice.

Witnesses said the attacker was in his 50s, dressed like a security guard and wearing a red bandanna. A kitchen knife was found on the road after the man fled. Ishii was rushed to a hospital and died about noon. Police initially said they had no suspects and few leads.

Ishii was about to join his political secretary and his driver in a car when he was attacked. Neighbors later said a man had been seen lurking around the neighborhood for about two hours before the attack, and added that they had heard Ishii shout at someone and then scream.

When she heard him scream, Ishii's wife ran out of the house, calling for help and frantically bemoaning the tardiness of an ambulance.

Police swarmed the neighborhood in Setagaya, an upscale part of Tokyo, amid widespread speculation about a motive.

The Democratic Party member was known for his vocal battles against corruption and injustice.

Ishii investigated the Aum Supreme Truth cult after the group mounted a sarin gas attack in 1995 on riders in the Tokyo subway. He also launched probes into the industrial waste sector and others with close ties to yakuza, or organized crime figures, linking them to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Ishii and two other aggressive colleagues in his party were dubbed the "three crows of pursuit." Ishii was also known for pursuing reforms and for verbally attacking corrupt lawmakers and condemning in parliament the waste of taxpayer money.

"He frequently offended enemies," said Harumi Arima, an independent political analyst. "We don't know anything for sure yet, but there seem to be several possible motives."

Ishii had also taken on social issues since winning a seat in parliament in 1993. One of the most high-profile was a campaign in 2000 against the Japanese film "Battle Royale," which depicted a future society in Japan where violence has run amok.

Politicians, analysts and social critics quickly condemned Ishii's slaying.

"Political activity should in no way be hindered by violence," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters a few hours after Ishii died. "I feel very angry."

Japanese politicians are rarely the object of violence, but those cases that do occur have tended to involve right-wing extremists. The last time a standing member of parliament was assassinated for political reasons reportedly was in 1960, when Socialist Party leader Inejiro Asanuma was stabbed by a right-wing youngster at a rally.

Arima said Japanese society has become increasingly heartless and doesn't seem to work well anymore.

"I'm really shocked," said Miki Watanabe, 31, a homemaker living in Tokyo. "I really don't feel safe. In Japan, you always assumed water and safety were free. Now that all seems to have changed."

Bunri Tatsuno, associate professor of criminology at Tokiwa University, said Japanese are increasingly fearful of becoming victims of crime as the social glue weakens. A single high-profile killing like this one, he added, can undermine people's trust in society.

"Even one crime can have a big impact on people," Tatsuno said. Increasing petty problems are diverting police from more important crimes, he added.

Ishii graduated from Waseda University and studied at Moscow University. He is survived by his 57-year-old wife, Natasha, a Russian, and his daughter, Hitomi.

*

Rie Sasaki in The Times' Tokyo Bureau contributed to this report.

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