On Jan. 16, Islamic militants believed led by the elusive commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar struck a natural-gas processing plant in Ain Amenas, Algeria. In the rescue attempt by units of Algeria’s army, as many as 81 people may have died, among which were 10 Japanese employees of Yokohama-based JGC Corporation — referred to as Nikki in the domestic media.
The sorrowful Jan. 26 arrival at Narita airport of the remains of nine of the 10 Nikki employees who perished in the assault was befitting a reception for fallen soldiers. Some domestic media went so far to refer to the men’s deaths as junshoku (death in the line of duty).
Two days later in a speech before the Diet, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe voiced determination to fight terrorism “in ongoing coordination with the international community.”
The media wasted no time assigning blame to the tragedy. Shukan Bunshun (Jan. 31) lambasted BP, Nikki’s partner and a principal in the Ain Amenas gas plant, for not raising its terrorist alert level or adopting proactive measures, such as the evacuation of nonessential personnel.
“When Algeria gave flyover permission for French military aircraft to intervene in Mali, BP should have anticipated the likelihood of retaliatory attacks by jihadists against European and U.S. businesses,” Mikio Haruna, a former editor of the Kyodo news agency, told the magazine.
In his weekly column in Asahi Geino (Feb. 14), Toshio Tamogami, a retired general forced to resign from the Air Self Defense Force for expressing hawkish views, argued that it’s time to drop the legal constraints that prevent Japan’s military from foreign intervention.
Tamogami went on record as being adamantly opposed to engaging in hostage negotiations with terrorists.
“In September 1977, when the Japanese Red Army hijacked a JAL DC-8 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, then-Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, using the pretext that ‘Human life outweighs the Earth,’ gave in to the extremists’ demands and released six of the hijackers’ confederates from prison,” he writes. “It was just a month and a half later, on Nov. 15, that the North Koreans abducted Megumi Yokota.”
In Tamogami’s view, North Korea may have perceived Japan’s “cowardly” response as an opportunity to proceed with abductions of Japanese nationals.
The former general was also critical of what he perceives as the virtual nonexistence of intelligence-gathering agencies in Japan.
“If we are to heed any lessons from the deaths of the Japanese victims, our country should reinforce its intelligence-gathering apparatus as quickly as possible,” he concludes.
Shukan Asahi (Feb. 8) suggests during the Algerian tragedy Japanese nationals were specifically singled out, and that this incident might even spell “the start of Japanese being targeted for terrorist acts.”
“In the past, Japanese were seen as the only race that stood up to confront the United States, which gained them respect in Arab society,” former Diet member Nobuhiko Shuto tells the magazine. “But since the first Gulf War Japan was seen as a client state of the U.S., and not only terrorists but ordinary Arabs came to regard it with hostility. … From the huge reaction to this recent incident al-Qaida has taken notice that Japan is a country that can easily be rattled. Japanese corporations need to boost their outlays for security.”
However, ex-diplomat Naoto Amaki, Japan’s former ambassador to Lebanon, clearly opposes his country taking up arms against the Islamic radicals. “An armed response to terrorists will elevate the dangers and … adopting a tough stance will spawn more risks,” he’s quoted as saying.
By happenstance, the Algeria tragedy also rekindled memories of Japan’s own home-grown terrorists, who from the late 1960s raised hell for several decades. Shukan Shincho (Feb. 14) reported that the Israeli Embassy in Tokyo had angrily protested a review of “The Season of Our Revolution in Palestinian Fields,” an unrepentant autobiography by Fusako Shigenobu, the woman who headed the Japanese Red Army. The review appeared in Aera (Jan. 28).
The Israeli government is well acquainted with Ms. Shigenobu, who was accused of having planned the May 30, 1972 “kamikaze” attack by three Red Army “soldiers” in the arrival area at Tel Aviv airport, which resulted in 24 civilian deaths and about 80 casualties. After several decades on Interpol’s terrorist watch list, she was finally arrested in 2000 and now, age 67, is about halfway through a 20-year prison sentence.
Kunio Suzuki, a veteran commentator known for his right-wing activism, had infuriated the Israelis when he suggested that Shigenobu might someday be regarded in a similarly heroic light as is Yaeko Yamamoto, the historical figure on whom NHK’s current yearlong taiga drama spectacular “Yae no Sakura” is based.
The real Yamamoto, who lived from 1845 to 1932, was a fearless female musketeer who fought for the Aizu domain (in present-day Fukushima) during the 1868-69 Boshin civil war. She converted to Christianity in the 1870s and served as a battlefield nurse in the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, and later went on to establish Doshisha University with her husband.
In a letter to Aera’s editor appearing in the Feb. 11 edition, Israeli Ambassador Nissim Ben Shitrit voiced his “deepest regret and disappointment” at the “glorifying” of Shigenobu’s career as a radical. “The murder of innocents,” he lectured the magazine, “is not an act of heroism, but one of cowardice. The media should not use its influence to extol terrorist acts, but to discourage them.”