Police nab Red Army founder Shigenobu

Fusako Shigenobu, the founder of the Japanese Red Army and a key figure in a series of international terrorist incidents in the 1970s, was arrested Wednesday in Osaka Prefecture.

Specifically, the arrest is over Shigenobu’s role, along with two others, in seizing the French Embassy in The Hague on Sept. 13, 1974.

Shigenobu is believed to have been the mastermind behind the attack.

The 55-year-old longtime fugitive, one of a handful of high-profile Japanese extremists who have been at large for decades, was transferred to Tokyo by bullet train in the evening for questioning at the Metropolitan Police Department.

Once brought in for interrogation, however, she refused to answer questions, police say.

Shigenobu was taken into custody at 10:35 a.m., soon after emerging from a hotel in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture.

Police approached her by using her alias and asking, “You are Okudaira, aren’t you.”

She is the ninth member of the group to be caught since 1995. The others were apprehended in countries as far-flung as Romania and Bolivia.

Observers believe Shigenobu’s arrest and the capture of the eight could spell the end of the organization, which is believed to have numbered no more than 40 at its peak.

Following the arrest, the Foreign Ministry issued a warning about possible terrorist attacks abroad due to Shigenobu’s apprehension.

The ministry said Japanese nationals in foreign countries should be on their guard.

Shigenobu founded the Japanese Red Army with the aim of furthering the Palestinian cause shortly after entering Lebanon in 1971, according to Japanese intelligence sources.

“I am filled with emotions about the arrest of Shigenobu, who may not have carried out the various (terrorist) incidents around the world over the last 30 years but is suspected of issuing commands for them,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told reporters.

“I hope that other members who are at large will also be arrested soon,” he added.

A native of Tokyo, Shigenobu dropped out of Meiji University and in 1969 became an active member of the Red Army faction, a radical leftist student group formed the same year, which advocated global revolution through armed violence.

By pretending to be the wife of leftist Takeshi Okudaira, she entered Beirut to assist the Popular Front for the Lib

eration of Palestine. She then organized the Japanese Red Army as an independent, foreign-based group.

The two other suspects in the 1974 incident are Junzo Okudaira, who is still on an international wanted list, and Haruo Wako, who was extradited from Lebanon and arrested by Japanese police in March.

At his first trial hearing at the Tokyo District Court on Sept. 20, Wako pleaded guilty to confining embassy staff and to shooting and injuring police officers.

The three terrorists, armed with handguns and other small arms, allegedly seized the embassy and took 11 members of staff hostage, including the French ambassador.

The siege lasted five days until France agreed to free a jailed colleague in return for the hostages’ release.

On May 30, 1972, three other Japanese Red Army members, including Takeshi Okudaira and Kozo Okamoto, were allegedly involved in a machinegun and grenade attack on Lod airport in Tel Aviv that left about 25 people dead and 80 injured.

The airport is now called Ben-Gurion airport.

Okudaira died in the attack. Okamoto, however, obtained political asylum in Lebanon, where he is believed to be still living.

On Aug. 4, 1975, five Japanese Red Army members, including Junzo Okudaira and Wako, were responsible for seizing the U.S. and Swedish embassies in Kuala Lumpur, an attack that led to the release from prison of several other cadres.

It is not known whether the two Okudairas are related.

On Sept. 28, 1977, five group members hijacked a Japan Airlines plane from Paris to Tokyo over India and forced it to land at a Dhaka airport. The Japanese government eventually released six jailed colleagues and paid $6 million in ransom for the passengers and crew.

In March, Mariko Yamamoto, Kazuo Tohira and Masao Adachi were extradited from Lebanon along with Wako. The three have been arrested on suspicion of charges including forging passports in the 1970s, the intelligence officers said.