An aging Japanese militant in Beirut marks the 1972 Israeli attack
BEIRUT — An aging Japanese activist who spent more than a decade in an Israeli prison for his role in a deadly Tel Aviv airport bombing showed up in Beirut on Monday at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the attack.
Kozo Okamoto, 74, served 12 years in an Israeli prison for a May 30, 1972 attack on the international airport outside Tel Aviv that was allegedly carried out by members of the Japanese Red Army guerrillas . Twenty-six people were killed, including Christian pilgrims.
Okamoto was released in 1985 in a prisoner swap between Israeli and Palestinian guerrillas and has since been granted political asylum in Lebanon where he has lived quietly for decades.
The ceremony at a Beirut cemetery where many Palestinian activists are buried was organized by a radical Palestinian faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It brought together a few dozen people and leaders of Lebanese and Palestinian factions, including the Lebanese Hezbollah. Participants gathered around a memorial dedicated to four pro-Palestinian Japanese nationals.
The 1972 attack on the airport was suspected to be a joint operation between the PFLP and the Japanese Red Army.
Wearing a Palestinian flag around his neck and the PFLP slogan, Okamoto looked frail as he made his way to the grave with the help of several men. He didn’t speak during his 30-minute visit to the cemetery and occasionally smiled and waved.
Okamoto’s rare public appearance came two days after Fusako Shigenobu, who co-founded Japan’s Red Army, was released from prison in Japan after serving a 20-year sentence and apologizing for injuring innocent.
The Japanese Red Army, a violent ultra-left group with ties to Palestinian militants, was formed in 1971 and took responsibility for several international attacks, including the takeover of the US consulate in Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia in 1975. The group is also suspected in the 1972 machine gun and grenade assault on the airport then known as Lod Airport.
The PFLP is a radical faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization and gained notoriety after the simultaneous hijackings of four Western airliners in 1970 and the seizure of an Air France flight to Entebbe, Uganda.
PFLP leader Marwan Abdul-Aal told The Associated Press that Palestinians have always faced a double standard because when they resist Israeli occupying forces, they are branded terrorists. Meanwhile, Western countries are now supporting Ukrainian resistance against invading Russian troops, he said.
“The world isn’t fair and that’s what these people used to say,” Abdul-Aal said of the Japanese fighters who supported the Palestinians.
During the 1972 attack, Okamoto and two of his colleagues arrived in Tel Aviv on a flight from Europe, then retrieved their bags in which they had packed guns and grenades and opened fire, killing and injuring dozens of people, according to AP reports.
The two Japanese with Okamoto were killed in the attack while he was wounded. Okamoto was later tried in Israel and sentenced to life in prison.
Okamoto and four other Japanese were arrested by Lebanese authorities in 1997 in eastern Lebanon after spending years illegally in the country, protected by Palestinian and Lebanese leftist groups during the chaotic days of the 1975- 90. They were tried and all four were returned to Japan in 2000 while Okamoto became the first person to be granted political asylum in Lebanon.
Japan has been asking for years for Okamoto to be handed over by Lebanon, but Beirut has repeatedly denied that request. He is considered a hero by many in Lebanon and the Arab world for championing the Palestinian cause and opposing Israel.
During the opening session of his trial in Lebanon in 1997, Okamoto was asked if he had used a false passport to enter Lebanon and he told the Beirut criminal court: “I don’t understand why I am accused of using a false passport”. .”
“I am an Arab resistance fighter,” he said. “I did it for the Palestinian cause.”