BEIRUT – Kozo Okamoto, one of three Japanese Red Army members who carried out a 1972 machinegun and grenade massacre at Tel Aviv’s airport, has told Kyodo News that he now wants to return home from Lebanon, where he has asylum.
“I want to return to Japan as soon as possible,” the 55-year-old Okamoto said during interviews conducted in Beirut between March 21 and 23. “I want to know how my old friends are doing there and want to return to college again to study biology.”
Tokyo continues to seek Okamoto’s extradition.
But Okamoto said, “I have finished my prison term in Israel, so it is not fair for the Japanese government to again put me on trial.”
Okamoto was sentenced to life imprisonment in Israel for taking part with two other Japanese Red Army members in the May 1972 attack at Lod Airport that left 26 people dead and 76 others wounded.
The airport in question is now known as Ben Gurion Airport.
The two others, Tsuyoshi Okudaira and Yasuyuki Yasuda, were killed in the attack. Okamoto was released in 1985 as part of a prisoner swap between Israel and Palestinian guerrillas.
Okamoto said he took part in the massacre because Okudaira had asked him to do so.
“I thought I would die in the gunbattle, and thought I would be sentenced to death even if I had survived and was caught,” he said.
Asked whether he regretted slaying innocent people, Okamoto said: “I had no option but to shoot for the sake of armed struggle. Now I can only pray for the victims.”
Okamoto said he went to Lebanon to join the Red Army’s “armed struggle” at the behest of its founder, Fusako Shigenobu. The group advocated global revolution.
Shigenobu was arrested Nov. 8, 2000, in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, having slipped back into Japan after nearly 30 years on the run.
Okamoto said he met with Shigenobu in 1997 in Beirut but had not seen other Japanese Red Army members since 1996.
After moving around in Libya and Syria, Okamoto and four other Japanese Red Army members were arrested in Lebanon in 1997 and imprisoned for three years for using forged passports. Their terms ended on March 7, 2000.
The four other members were forcibly taken to Japan, but the Lebanese government granted Okamoto political asylum, saying he had participated in resistance operations against Israel and had been tortured in Israeli jails.
Okamoto is believed to have developed schizophrenia while in prison in Israel and is now on medication. He claimed, however, that with the help of supporters, he has no problems in everyday life.
He said Japanese Red Army members, including Kunio Bando, 56, and Norio Sasaki, 54, fugitives in the hijacking of a Japanese airplane near Dhaka in 1977, cared for him between 1985, when he was freed by Israel, and the mid-1990s.
Okamoto said he now lives in an apartment in the suburbs of Beirut with Japanese supporters.
He said he now leads a quiet life, taking walks and shopping, or listening to the radio. He said he is glad when Palestinians come up to him to shake his hand on the street.