Yoshimi Tanaka, one of the nine Japanese Red Army members who hijacked a Japan Airlines jet to Pyongyang in 1970, died Monday of liver cancer at a hospital in Chiba Prefecture, sources said.

The 58-year-old Tanaka, who was serving a 12-year prison term, was transferred to the hospital after his prison term was suspended Dec. 15. He had been in an Osaka prison hospital.

Tanaka was transferred from Kumamoto Prison to the Osaka prison hospital Nov. 21 due to the ailment, and his lawyers subsequently asked the Tokyo High Public Prosecutor’s Office to suspend his sentence.

A funeral for Tanaka, a native of Kumamoto Prefecture, will be held by relatives. It will be followed later by memorial services in Tokyo and Osaka, the sources said.

On March 31, 1970, Tanaka and the eight others hijacked the jet as it was flying to Fukuoka from Tokyo with 129 passengers and crew.

After releasing passengers at Fukuoka airport and Gimpo airport in South Korea, the plane was forced to fly to Pyongyang, where the hijackers defected.

Tanaka was apprehended in Cambodia in March 1996 and later indicted in Thailand for allegedly using counterfeit U.S. currency, only to be found not guilty later.

Kyodo News

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