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Friday, Feb. 24, 2006

Red Army founder gets 20 years

Court calls Shigenobu key player in seizure of embassy


Staff writer

The Tokyo District Court sentenced Japanese Red Army guerrilla group founder Fusako Shigenobu to 20 years in prison Thursday for plotting and aiding the 1974 occupation of the French Embassy in The Hague and for passport forgery.

News photo
Police take up positions in front of the French Embassy in The Hague during the Japanese Red Army's seizure in 1974.

Shigenobu, 60, was found guilty of conspiring with three Red Army members to storm the embassy and take the French ambassador and 10 other staff members hostage to secure the release of a Red Army member from a French prison.

Two police officers were shot and seriously wounded in the attack.

Shigenobu was not among the three who seized the embassy. The three were Junzo Okudaira, 57, Haruo Wako, 57, and Jun Nishikawa, 55.

The main point at issue in the trial was whether the court acknowledged Shigenobu's involvement in the attack even though she was not present when the three stormed the mission.

The court ruled that Shigenobu had conspired with members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to obtain guns and grenades, and that she played a central role in planning the attack. The court rejected the defense argument that Shigenobu's activities were unrelated to the PFLP.

"(This) terrorist act disrupted international order and jeopardized the lives of innocent people," presiding Judge Hironobu Murakami said. "An act of terror was just as serious at the time of the crime as it is now."

Yoshiaki Yamada, the Japanese Red Army member held in the French prison, was released in exchange for the embassy hostages. He fled to Syria, together with Okudaira and the two other attackers.

The court also found Shigenobu guilty of obtaining a Japanese passport using fake documents in April 1974 to allow Junzo Okudaira to flee Japan. Okudaira remains at large.

News photo
This artist's rendering shows Fusako Shigenobu taking notes as she listens to the judge's ruling during her trial.

During her sentence, Shigenobu stared straight ahead. She bowed slightly after hearing the sentence and clenched her fist.

"My mother raised her fist many times during the sentencing, which she means she will continue to fight," her daughter, May Shigenobu, said after the sentence was handed down, indicating the defendant will appeal. "This is not the end. It's the beginning."

The sight of a three Japanese taking 11 people hostage to promote the Palestinian cause brought the Middle East conflict right into Japanese living rooms.

Along with the 1973 and 1977 hijacking of planes by Osamu Maruoka, the incident was an important introduction to the concept of terrorism for many Japanese.

"The crime was selfish and base, and the perpetrators did not hesitate to jeopardize or use innocent lives for the sake of their own doctrines and claims, which they saw as absolute," Judge Murakami said.

Prosecutors had sought life in prison for Shigenobu for plotting the attack, taking hostages and attempted murder, calling the act a "contemptible act of terror."

But the judge ruled a life sentence was too harsh, saying that while Shigenobu was in a central position to plan the attack, there was not enough evidence to determine that she was the leader of the operation.

Because Shigenobu has already spent four years and 40 days in custody during her trial, she has 16 years left on her sentence.

Shigenobu founded and headed the Japanese Red Army in 1973. It was based in Lebanon and backed Arab nationalist causes.

Shigenobu was arrested in Osaka in 2000 after slipping back into Japan and living under a false identity.

She announced the disbanding of the group in April 2001 as its presence in the Arab world had diminished.

The district court sentenced Wako to life imprisonment last March, a ruling that he has appealed. Nishikawa is currently on trial.

Shigenobu's bogus husband, Tsuyoshi Okudaira, is Junzo's older brother. He died in a 1972 massacre at Tel Aviv's Lod airport that left 24 dead and 76 wounded.

Information from Kyodo added



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