Red Army Faction fugitive Yoshimi Tanaka arrived Wednesday in Japan to face trial for his role in a Japan Airlines jetliner hijacking 30 years ago, following his arrest in Thailand by Japanese police the previous night.
A JAL plane carrying Tanaka, 51, touched down at Narita airport at 6:13 a.m. after an overnight flight from Bangkok. Authorities brought Tanaka to the Metropolitan Police Department headquarters at around 8:20 a.m.
The MPD’s Public Security Bureau set up a squad Wednesday to investigate Tanaka’s role in the hijacking and his activities in North Korea, police officials said.
Tanaka was one of nine members of the radical Red Army Faction involved in hijacking the airliner, which was traveling from Tokyo to Pyongyang on March 31, 1970. It was Japan’s first air piracy case.
Thai authorities handed Tanaka over to Japanese police, who had traveled to Bangkok for the extradition, on board the JAL flight.
He was then placed under arrest on the plane, in a saga watched by a host of Japanese journalists.
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori expressed gratitude to authorities in Thailand and elsewhere, telling reporters, “(Tanaka’s extradition) was realized as a result of consideration made by various countries and their government officials.”
Tanaka, who allegedly took part in the hijacking while he was a college student and later received political asylum in North Korea, had initially tried to fight extradition but then recently repeatedly said he wished to return to Japan to face trial.
He repeated that sentiment in an interview with Kyodo News at the Bangkok Remand Prison on Tuesday morning.
“At first, I and my colleagues had thought we could go back to Japan within six months after the incident. But it is only after 30 years that I can return to Japan,” he said.
Tanaka spent most of those years in North Korea, where he was married and, according to Japanese authorities, worked for North Korean intelligence.
Tanaka resurfaced in Cambodia four years ago and was arrested on the Vietnamese border in March 1996 while traveling in a North Korean diplomatic vehicle. He was later charged with using counterfeit U.S. currency.
A Thai court last June acquitted him of passing counterfeit U.S. currency in Pattaya, paving the way for his extradition to Japan.
Tanaka and his eight colleagues from the faction hijacked the JAL plane on a scheduled flight from Tokyo to Fukuoka. The plane was finally forced to land in Pyongyang on April 3, 1970, via Seoul, where the passengers were released.
Among the nine former faction members, four are still in North Korea along with at least 16 family members, including Tanaka’s wife and their three daughters.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki told a press conference that Japan will make efforts to arrest the four other hijacking fugitives who are still living in North Korea.
Three of the hijackers have died since the skyjacking. The last man, now aged 46, was arrested in Japan in 1988. He was convicted and served a five-year prison term.