The Japanese Red Army (abbreviated JRA) was a communist militant group founded by Fusako Shigenobu early in 1971 in Lebanon. After the Lod airport massacre, it sometimes called itself Arab-JRA. The JRA’s stated goals were to overthrow the Japanese government and the monarchy, as well as to start a world revolution.
The group was also known as the Anti-Imperialist International Brigade (AIIB), the Holy War Brigade, and the Anti-War Democratic Front.
Japanese Red Army Faction in Japan
Shigenobu had been a leading member in the Red Army Faction (Sekigun-ha) in Japan, whose roots lay in the militant new-left Communist League. Advocating revolution through terrorism, they set up their own group, declaring war on the state in September 1969. The police quickly arrested many of them, including founder and intellectual leader Takaya Shiomi, who was in jail by 1970. The Sekigun lost about 200 members, and the remnants merged with a Maoist group to form the Rengo Sekigun or United Red Army in July 1971. This group became notable during the Asama-Sanso incident, when it purged twelve of its members in a training camp hideout on Mount Haruna, before a week-long siege involving hundreds of police. Fusako Shigenobu had left Japan with only a handful of dedicated people, but her group is said to have had about 40 members at its height and was from the Lod airport massacre on one of the best-known armed leftist groups in the world. The Japanese Red Army, Nihon Sekigun from 1971 had very close ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Wadie Haddad. By 1972 the United Red Army in Japan was finished and the Shigenobu group dependent on the PFLP for financing, training, and weaponry.
In April 2001, Shigenobu issued a statement from detention declaring the Japanese Red Army had disbanded, who said that their battles should be done by legal means.
The National Police Agency publicly stated that a successor group was founded in 2001, called Movement Rentai.
Known members of the Japanese Red Army
- Fusako Shigenobu, founder and leader, arrested in Osaka, Japan, November 2000. Shigenobu is accused of orchestrating attacks, kidnappings, and hijackings. She helped plan the 1972 attack at Lod Airport. A court in Tokyo sentenced her in February 2006 to serve 20 years in prison.
- Haruo Wakō, a former leader, arrested on February 1997.
- Osamu Maruoka, former leader and the hijacker of two aircraft, was arrested on November 1987 in Tokyo after entering Japan on a forged passport. Given a life sentence, he died in prison on May 29, 2011.
- Yū Kikumurawas arrested with explosives on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1988 and served over 18 years of a 30‑year prison sentence in the United States. In April 2007, Kikumura was released from US incarceration and immediately arrested upon his return to Japan. He was released on October 2007.
- Yoshimi Tanaka was arrested in Cambodia in 1996 and extradited to Japan. A Tokyo court sentenced him to 12 years in prison in 2002 for his involvement in the Yodo-go hijacking, in which a Japan Airlines plane was hijacked to North Korea. He died in 2007.
- Yukiko Ekida, the former member of East Asia Anti-Japan Armed Front and a long-time JRA leader, was arrested on March 1995 in Romania and subsequently deported to Japan. She received a sentence of 20 years for attempted murder and violating the explosives law in a series of bombings targeting large companies in 1974 and 1975. The trial of Ekida was originally started in 1975 but was suspended when she was released from prison in 1977. Her release was part of a deal with the Japanese Red Army during the hijacking of a Japanese airliner to Bangladesh.
- Moriaki Wakabayashi, former bassist of Les Rallizes Dénudés. He participated to the Japan Airlines Flight 351and is – if not dead – now living in North Korea, as the other hijackers of the aircraft. The hijack marked his departure from the band. Takashi Mizutani, the leader of the band, was also offered a role in the hijacking but turned it down.
- Kōzō Okamoto is the only survivor of the group of three Guerrillas attacking the Israeli Lod airport in 1972, now called Ben Gurion International Airport. He was jailed in Israel, but on May 1985, Okamoto was set free in an exchange of prisoners between Israeli and Palestinian forces. Subsequently, he was imprisoned in Lebanon for three years for forging visas and passports. The Lebanese authorities granted Okamoto political asylum in 1999 for having participated in attacks against Israel and being allegedly tortured while serving his prison sentence in Israel.
- Masao Adachi, Kazuo Tohira, Haruo Wakō, and Mariko Yamamotowere also imprisoned in Lebanon on charges of forgery yet were sent to Jordan. As the Jordanian authorities refused to allow them into Jordan, they were handed over to Japan.
- Kuniya Akagi, a collaborator of the JRA, was arrested after returning to Osaka from Pyongyang via Beijing in order to be questioned over the kidnapping of three Japanese nationals in Europe by North Korean spies in the 1980s. He is linked to Shirō Akagi, who took part in the Yodo-gohijacking (See also: Japan Airlines Flight 351).
- Hiroshi Sensui, a JRA militant living in the Philippines, was arrested by the Integrated National Police as part of anti-terrorist measures to prevent terrorist incidents from taking place in the Seoul Olympic games after being tipped off by the Japanese National Police Agency.
- Kunio Bandowas a key member and is still on Interpol’s wanted list. He may have taken refuge in the Philippines in the year 2000.
- Kazue Yoshimura, reported to have taken part in the hostage crisis in The Hague, was arrested by Peruvian DIRCOTEagents in Lima on May 25, 1996, after alleged contacts with members of the Maoist Shining Path (SP) insurgency (even possibly with then-head of the organization Comrade Feliciano). The trace to her arrest was established after the 1995 Bucharest capture of Yukiko Ekita with a false Peruvian passport. Yoshimura had first entered Peru in February 1993 with a Philippine passport and later returned with the name of Yoko Okuyama, supposedly intended on traveling to the coca-growing Huallaga Valley, the last stronghold of the diminished Peruvian Maoist insurgency as well as a drug-trafficking haven. According to Peruvian Caretas magazine, she was intending on helping establish a JRA presence in South America and may have even established contacts with Jun Nishikawa, another JRA operative later captured in Bolivia. Yoshimura was later deported to Japan by the government of Alberto Fujimori (a Japanese Peruvian), who stated that there was no proof against her despite the overwhelming intelligence data. The move was allegedly the result of pressure from the Japanese authorities. In December 1997, Yoshimura was sentenced to two and a half years imprisonment for passport forgery.
During the 1970s and 1980s, JRA carried out a series of attacks in Japan and around the world, including:
- March 31, 1970: nine members of the JRA’s predecessor, the Red Army Faction(whose leaders had been a part of the Communist League before they were thrown out), conducted Japan’s most infamous hijacking, that of Japan Airlines Flight 351, a domestic Japan Airlines Boeing 727 carrying 129 people at Tokyo International Airport. Wielding katanas and a bomb, they forced the crew to fly the airliner to Fukuoka and later Gimpo Airport in Seoul, where all the passengers were freed. The aircraft then flew to North Korea, where the hijackers abandoned it and the crewmembers were released. Tanaka was the only one to be convicted. Three of Tanaka’s alleged accomplices later died in North Korea and five remain there. According to Japan’s National Police Agency, another accomplice may also have died in North Korea.
- May 30, 1972: the Lod Airport massacre; a gun- and grenade attack at Israel‘s Lod Airport in Tel Aviv, now Ben Gurion International Airport, killed 26 people; about 80 others were wounded. One of the three attackers then committed suicide with a grenade, another was shot in the crossfire. The only surviving attacker was Kōzō Okamoto. Many of the victims were Christian pilgrims.
- July 1973: Red Army members led the hijacking of Japan Air Lines Flight 404 over the Netherlands. The passengers and crew were released in Libya, where the hijackers blew up the aircraft.
- January 1974: the Laju incident; the JRA attacked a Shell facility in Singapore and took five hostages; simultaneously, the PFLP seized the Japanese embassy in Kuwait. The hostages were exchanged for a ransom and safe passage to South Yemen.
- September 13, 1974: the French Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands was stormed. The ambassador and ten other people were taken a hostage and a Dutch policewoman, Joke Remmerswaal, was shot in the back, puncturing a lung. After lengthy negotiations, the hostages were freed in exchange for the release of a jailed Red Army member (Yatsuka Furuya), $300,000 and the use of an aircraft. The hostage-takers flew first to Aden, South Yemen, where they were not accepted and then to Syria. Syria did not consider hostage-taking for money revolutionary and forced them to give up their ransom.
- August 1975: the Red Army took more than 50 hostages at the AIA Building housing several embassies in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The hostages included the US consul and the Swedish chargé d’affaires. The gunmen won the release of five imprisoned comrades and flew with them to Libya.
- August 11, 1976: in Istanbul, Turkey, four people were killed and twenty wounded by PFLP and Japanese Red Army terrorists in an attack at Istanbul Atatürk airport.
- September 1977: The Red Army hijacked Japan Airlines Flight 472over India and forced it to land in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Japanese Government freed six imprisoned members of the group and allegedly paid a $6M ransom.
- December 1977: a suspected lone member of the Red Army hijacked Malaysian Airline System Flight 653. The flight was carrying the Cuban ambassador to Tokyo, Mario Garcia. The Boeing 737 crashed killing all on board.
- May 1986: the Red Army fired mortar rounds at the embassies of Japan, Canada, and the United States in Jakarta, Indonesia.
- June 1987: a similar attack was launched on the British and United States embassies in Rome, Italy.
- April 1988: Red Army members bombed the US military recreational (USO) club in Naples, Italy, killing five.
- In the same month, JRA operative Yū Kikumura was arrested with explosives on the New Jersey Turnpike highway, apparently to coincide with the USO bombing. He was convicted of these charges and served time in a United States prison until his release on April 2007. Upon his return to Japan, he was immediately arrested on suspicion of using fraudulent travel documents.
- Sekigun – PFLP. Sekai Sensō Sengen, Red Army – PFLP: Declaration of World War, 1971, shot on location in Lebanon, produced by Kōji Wakamatsu. Patricia Steinhoff translates its title Manifesto for World Revolution which makes perhaps more sense. A propaganda film for the Red Army sympathizers in Japan.
One of the people showing the film around Japan with the producer was Mieko Toyama, a close friend of Fusako Shigenobu. She was murdered in the winter training camp massacre.
- Jitsuroku Rengō Sekigun, Asama sansō e no michi, United Red Army(The Way to Asama Mountain Lodge), 2007, shows the horrors of the United Red Army winter camp, but also the history of the militant Japanese student movement. See also United Red Army (film)
- Suatu Ketika… Soldadu Merah(Once Upon A Time… Red Soldier), an 8 episode Malaysian TV drama series based on the Japanese Red Army attack in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 1975. Produced by NSK Productions (Malaysia), the series was shot in 2009 and currently airs on Malaysia’s local cable channel, ASTRO Citra 131. Read Hostage Drama article by TheStar newspapers.
- In 2010, Fusako Shigenobuand Masao Adachi was featured in the documentary Children of the Revolution, which tells the story of Shigenobu and the Japanese Red Army through the eyes of Mei Shigenobu.
- In the 2010 French TV Film Carlos, members of the Japanese Red Army feature when they stormed the French Embassy in The Hague and associating with the PFLP and the German Revolutionary Cells.
- The 2011 Bangladeshi film The Young Man Was, Part 1: United Red Army by visual artist Naeem Mohaiemen is about the 1977 hijacking of JAL 472 and the subsequent consequences inside Bangladesh.
- Rabih El-Amine’s documentary Ahmad the Japanese, Lod-Roumié-Tokyo made in 1999 tells Okamoto’s story from the perspective of five major personalities that knew him in Beirut.
- Philippe Grandrieuxand Nicole Brenez’s documentary Masao Adachi. Portrait – First episode of the collection The Beauty May Have Strengthened Our Resoluteness, 2012, shot on location in Tokyo, which tells the daily life of Adachi and his reminiscences.
Black Lagoon Episode 11, Lock’n Load Revolution, and Episode 12, Guerrillas in the Jungle The Lagoon Company is pursued by ships belonging to the terrorists from the Protectors of the Islamic Front led by Masahiro Takenaka.