Hijacker Nishikawa given life in prison

by Jun Hongo

A former Japanese Red Army member who took part in the hijacking of a Japan Airlines flight in 1977 was sentenced to life in prison Friday, two decades after being freed in a hostage exchange with the group.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced Jun Nishikawa, 56, after finding him guilty of violating the hijacking law, passport forgery, attempted murder and taking hostages at the French Embassy in The Hague, Netherlands, in 1974.

Nishikawa was first arrested in 1975, but his trial was suspended for more than two decades until 1998 after he became one of those released in a hostage exchange deal with the Japanese government.

Presiding Judge Tsutomu Aoyagi condemned Nishikawa for taking innocent civilians hostage to promote his political agenda while ignoring the law and order of international society.

“The dogmatic and antisocial criminal motives leave no room for leniency,” the court said, stating that Nishikawa bore grave criminal responsibility for the two terrorist attacks.

Nishikawa, dressed in a beige jacket and dark pants, sat impassively as the verdict was read aloud.

Nishikawa pleaded not guilty to some of the charges, claiming he never intended to murder the hostages during the siege on the French Embassy and that he was not involved in hijacking the JAL airliner.

During earlier court sessions, however, Nishikawa had expressed remorse about the Japanese Red Army’s activities.

He acknowledged that “armed struggles against the state failed and eventually disintegrated after being cast off by society.”

According to the court, Nishikawa and two other Red Army members, armed with grenades and firearms, broke into the French Embassy in The Hague on Sept. 13, 1974, taking 11 people hostage and obtaining the release of a Japanese activist detained in France.

Nishikawa was arrested in April 1975 over the incident and charged with attempted murder.

But he was released four months later, while being tried for the embassy incident, with four other Red Army extremists in an extralegal measure by Japan, which traded them for 50 hostages the group had taken in an attack on diplomatic compounds in Kuala Lumpur, including the U.S. consul.

The 1977 JAL hijacking took place while Nishikawa was at large.

Five Red Army members armed with guns and grenades took over the Paris-Tokyo flight on Sept. 28, 1977.

The hijackers forced the plane to land in Dhaka, where they demanded the release of six Red Army activists who were detained in Japan, plus $6 million in ransom for some 150 passengers and flight attendants.

Japan again met their demands.

Nishikawa was located in Bolivia 20 years later and detained by local authorities, who deported him to Japan in November 1997.

His trial resumed in Japan in June 1998.

Last October, the prosecutors demanded life imprisonment for Nishikawa, alleging he terrified the international community with his ruthless acts of terrorism.

The Japanese Red Army was founded in 1971 and its members engaged in several major terrorist incidents in the 1970s and 80s, including the 1972 massacre of 24 civilians at Lod airport in Tel Aviv, and the 1986 rocket bomb attack against the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.

The extremist group is believed to have had some 400 members at its peak, but its activities diminished after key members were arrested and convicted in the late 1980s.

The Japanese Red Army was disbanded in April 2001 after founder Fusako Shigenobu, who was arrested in November 2000, declared the group disbanded while in prison.

She is appealing a 20-year prison term handed down by the Tokyo District Court in February 2006 for her roles in a series of attacks, including The Hague incident.