Former Red Army Faction member Yoshimi Tanaka pleaded guilty Friday to hijacking a Japan Airlines jet and forcing it to fly to Pyongyang in 1970.
During his first Tokyo District Court trial hearing, 52-year-old Tanaka admitted that he took part in the hijacking and in inflicting minor injuries on five of the people aboard the jet.
“I have no intention to challenge the facts,” Tanaka told the court. “I want to express my apology to the passengers and crew for making them experience such terror.”
According to the indictment, Tanaka and eight other Red Army Faction members hijacked the Boeing 727 on March 31, 1970, after it left Tobkyo en route to Fukuoka, taking 129 passengers and crew members hostage.
The plane first stopped at Fukuoka to refuel, and 23 passengers were released there. In an attempt to resolve the hijacking in South Korea, the government made the plane fly to Seoul after asking South Korean authorities to disguise the terminal to look like Pyongyang airport.
The hijackers uncovered this ruse, however, and, on April 3, forced the pilot to fly to Pyongyang, where the hijackers were granted political asylum.
Tanaka’s wife, Kyoko, 44, and one of their daughters in North Korea had tried to return to Japan in time for the first hearing but were unable to obtain the necessary documents from Japan.
Tanaka was arrested in Cambodia in 1996 and eventually handed over to authorities in Thailand, where he was accused of using counterfeit U.S. currency at a Thai beach resort.
He was acquitted of counterfeiting in 1999 and extradited to Japan last June.
Japanese police said Tanaka was involved in North Korean activities in Europe in the 1980s.
Of the nine accused hijackers, three have died, four are believed still living in North Korea with their relatives and one was arrested in 1988 in Japan and has served a five-year prison sentence.
Known as the Sekigun-ha in Japan, the Red Army Faction was formed in 1969 and advocated global revolution through armed struggle.
A splinter group, the Japanese Red Army, broke away two years later and gained international notoriety in the 1970s through a series of terrorist acts abroad.
Last month, Fusako Shigenobu, one of the key members of the Japanese Red Army, was arrested in Osaka Prefecture after nearly 30 years on the run on suspicion of illegal detention and attempted murder in the 1974 seizure of the French Embassy in The Hague.