KOBE – The unsolved 1987 murder of an Asahi Shimbun reporter at the newspaper’s Hanshin bureau had just one year as of Thursday before the 15-year statute of limitations runs out.
And investigators are no closer to an arrest.
Over the past two years, a Hyogo Prefectural Police task force questioned about 20 people linked to rightist groups for information that may relate to the case. The number of task force members has meanwhile been reduced from 120 at its peak to about 30.
“We will do our utmost until the very final moment to resolve the case,” Akinori Tsuruya, director of the Hyogo force’s criminal investigation division, said Thursday while attending an anniversary memorial held for reporter Tomohiro Kojiri at the daily’s bureau in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.
On May 3, 1987, a man wearing a ski mask broke into the bureau and shot Kojiri, 29, with a shotgun. A colleague who was with him was seriously wounded.
Later, a statement claiming responsibility for the attack was delivered to media organizations, in which the sender identified itself as “Sekiho-tai, a special unit of the Patriotic Corps for Independence of the Japanese Race.” The statement also said “anti-Japanese elements must face the death penalty.”
Police suspected the assassin belonged to a nationalist group that had been angered by the editorial stance of the Asahi Shimbun.
The shooting was only one of a series of attacks on Asahi Shimbun offices that took place in the 1980s.
In January 1987, a statement also in the name of Sekiho-tai was delivered to news organizations claiming that shotgun shells had been fired into the Tokyo headquarters of the Asahi Shimbun. Shotgun blast traces were later discovered.
In September the same year, an unidentified man fired a shotgun at a TV set and other items in a dining room of an annex to the Nagoya headquarters of Asahi Shimbun.
Earlier in the 1980s, there were five arson or attempted arson attacks at the newspaper’s Tokyo headquarters and the U.S. Consulate in Kobe, for which “Patriotic Corps” issued a statement claiming responsibility.
In what police believed was a related case, threatening letters in the name of Sekiho-tai were sent in March 1988 to the hometown residences of former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, and then Prime Minister Noburu Takeshita in Shimane Prefecture.
In August that year, bullets were fired into the Tokyo house of former Recruit Co. Chairman Hiromasa Ezoe, who was at the center of a widespread bribery scandal involving politicians and business leaders. Again, a statement was issued in the name of Sekiho-tai.
Despite their investigations over 14 years, police have so far been unable to find clues that would lead to any arrests.
Since 1999, police have focused on about 20 people whom they believe may know something about the assassin and gave them polygraph tests on a voluntary basis.
However, none provided any information on the killing. “We will make a clear-cut judgment on all those people. We will not leave them in their ‘gray’ status,” a senior Hyogo police official said.
At Thursday’s memorial for Kojiri, residents of the neighborhood also paid tribute to the slain reporter. “Unless the case is resolved, I am afraid of saying my name (to the press). I am worried that we may be heading toward a society where we cannot speak out,” a 36-year-old woman said.
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