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Japanese Red Army: A Communist Terrorist Organization

Members of the Japanese Red Army
Japan’s Red Army Most Wanted Photo (The source)

1. Introduction.

The Japanese Red Army (JRA) was a communist terrorist organization that operated worldwide. The JRA was active between 1971 and 2001 when it was officially disbanded by its leader. They formed it by merging two revolutionary communist factions in Japan, the Red Army Fraction and the United Red Army. Both groups believed that terrorist actions were the only way to bring about the revolution they dreamed of.

2. Doctrine of the Japanese Red Army.

The JRA’s goal was to revolutionize Japan, based on Marxist-Leninist ideology. He ultimately sought to unite the world under the banner of communism. (The source) Although officially disbanded in 2001, the group was most active in the 1970s and 1980s. And was one of, if not the best-known, left-wing terrorist organizations in the world.

Moreover, sensitive to the political, social, and moral problems of Japan under the American-leaning conservative government, the JRA saw itself as the vanguard of a world revolution in which terror was not a means but an end. (The source) The group’s slogan was “One, two, many Vietnam”.

The JRA’s extreme views and methods ultimately meant that it received little support at home in Japan. Consequently, he sought to forge ties with other radical groups around the world. Which became essential to his survival because of police repression in Japan. Due to this pressure from the Japanese state, the JRA fled to Lebanon in 1971. Where it strengthened its ties with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

2.1. JRA joins the Palestinian cause.

After fleeing to Lebanon in 1971, the JRA aligned with the PFLP. It was a natural choice. The PLFP was also a Marxist-Leninist group that saw violence as an end, not a means. (The source)

The JRA aligned itself with the Palestinian cause, as it could not gain recognition for its cause in Japan. And this despite their action on the international scene. The JRA relied heavily on support from the PLFP for funding and training. Much of the propaganda released by the JRA in the 1970s was designed for recruitment, focusing on the formation of the PLFP and the JRA’s participation in the armed Palestinian cause. (The source)

Therefore, this symbiotic relationship leads both the JRA and the PFLP to conduct joint operations. Most notably, the Lod airport massacre that occurred in 1972.

3. Organization and management of the JRA.

The leader of the JRA was Fusako Shigenobu, otherwise known as the Red Queen or Empress of Terror, (The source) and her husband Takeshi Okudaira. and her husband Takeshi Okudaira. Okudaira later died in the Lod airport attack in 1972. The group focused on recruiting those with a revolutionary spirit into universities across Japan.

The group functioned as a tightly structured centralized organization. At its peak, it had thirty to forty members. With six hardcore members and an unknown number of supporters. (The source) The orders given to his soldiers by his leader, Shigenobu, were absolute. Thereafter, his soldiers would only receive tactical information before an attack. (The source)

Additionally, the JRA’s ties to the PLFP made it one of the first terrorist organizations to have an international focal point. They also aligned him with the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy. (The source)

Leader of the Japanese Red Army
Japanese Red Army leader Fusako Shigenobu (The source)

4. Tactics, techniques and procedures.

The JRA used tactics in its early days that were closely aligned with Japanese samurai culture. His propensity for close personal attacks such as bank robberies, hijackings, and hostage taking were all actions that involved personal contact with those attacked. (The source)

These tactics changed in 1977. The group focused more on bombing and rocket launching. This tactical change occurred because he needed to focus on maintaining manpower and being further from the target with an escape route facilitated this objective.

5. Notable JRA operations.

Hijackings, bombings and hostage takings are the style of attacks for which the JRA was famous. The group attacked airports, hijacked commercial airlines, targeted embassies and also targeted US personnel. The group’s deadliest attack was the 1972 Lod airport massacre in which it killed 26 people and injured 80 others.

5.1. The Lod airport massacre in May 1972.

This was undoubtedly the JRA’s deadliest attack. Together with the PLFP, the group killed 26 people and wounded and wounded 80 others. The JRA and PFLP used a lethal combination of machine guns and hand grenades in the attack. The initial objective of the attack was to kill as many Jews as possible. However, what happened was the murder of seventeen Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico, eight Israelis and one Canadian. Among the Israeli casualties was future presidential candidate Aharon Katzir. (The source)

The JRA attackers realized that capture was imminent. Two, including leader Takeshi Okudaira, made a suicide pact with another assailant, in which one shot the other before blowing himself up with a hand grenade. The third attacker was one of the JRA leaders, Kozo Okamoto. Subsequently, Okamoto was captured and imprisoned until 1985, when he was released in a prisoner exchange. (The source)

5.2. The seat of the French Embassy in 1974 – The Hague.

On Friday, September 13, 1974, three JRA “soldiers” stormed the French Embassy in The Hague, the Netherlands. JRA leader Fusako Shigenobu ordered the attack. It demanded the release of its member, Yatsuka Furuya, having taken the ambassador and ten other people hostage. The attackers also demanded a million dollars and the use of an airplane. The siege lasted five days, with the Dutch and French authorities eventually negotiating with the terrorist and capitulating to the demands of the JRA.

Parallel to the siege of the embassy, ​​the PLFP attacks Paris. The PLFP threw a grenade into a café killing two people and injuring 34 others. The PLFP claimed responsibility for the attack. This attack is ultimately the reason the French government negotiated with the JRA hostage takers. (The source)

Japanese Red Army Headquarters - The Hague
JRA headquarters of the French Embassy, ​​The Hague – 1974 (The source)

5.3. Hijacking of Japan Airlines flight 472 – 1977.

On September 28, 1977, the JRA hijacked Japan Airlines Flight 472 with 156 people on board. The hijackers forced the plane to land in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The hijackers’ demands were again the release of its members and $6 million.

The Japanese government, taking a different approach to the British and American approaches to non-negotiation, agreed to the demands on October 1, 1977. A flight chartered by Japan Airlines flew to Dhaka, where the exchange of cash and six prisoners took place. . The JRA hijackers then flew to Damascus and Kuwait, where the JRA freed another eleven hostages. Algiers was the final destination of the hijacked plane. The hijackers escaped and many are still at large. (The source)

The importance of this diversion should not be underestimated. This led the Japanese government to create a special assault team designed to deal with any future terrorist activity. This task is now carried out by the Japanese special forces group. (The source)

5.4. Japanese Red Army attacks American service personnel – 1988 Naples, Italy.

In April 1988, he detonated a car bomb outside the United Service Organization military recreation facility in Naples, Italy. This attack killed five people, including an American, and injured fifteen others, including four American sailors. The JRA, Junzo Okudaira, executed him. The attack took place on the second anniversary of the American bombing of Libya in 1986. Okudaira was never arrested and was convicted in 1993 of murder in absentia. (The source)

6. Fall of the Japanese international terrorist organization.

From 1990, the JRA was no longer active. The group went underground following a series of arrests in Romania, Peru and other countries. In 1997, the authorities arrested five members of the JRA in Lebanon, which has been its operational base since 1972. With the exception of Kozo Okamoto, who enjoys political asylum in the country. (The source) The fall of the Soviet Union had an impact on her demise in 1990. She would have relied on the Soviet Union to give her legitimacy in her Marxist-Leninist aims. Therefore, without the Soviet Union, the JRA found it difficult to recruit new “soldiers” to its cause.

The final nail in the JRA’s coffin was the arrest of its leader Fusako Shigenobu in Osaka in 2000 by Japanese authorities. In April 2001, she announced the dissolution of the group. Shigenobu announced that she would pursue her goals through legitimate political means. (The source)

The arrest of so many JRA members was due to an increase in police and intelligence liaisons. This led to the capture of many senior members of the terrorist organization.

7. The hunt for JRA terrorists continues.

With the JRA disbanded and inactive in the terrorist scene for over two decades, the Japanese government is still seeking information on those it has not captured. In February 2022, the Tokyo Police Department released a video for information on wanted JRA members. The charges against the wanted members include terrorism and impersonation. The Tokyo Police Department believes that although the group is officially no longer active, its members who are fugitives still have ties to international terrorist organizations. (The source)

8. Summary.

The Japanese Red Army is the Japanese equivalent of the modern terrorist organizations we think of today. He was motivated by a desire to bring about change in the class system in Japan and American influence in his home country. Ultimately, even with the scale and horror of its attacks, the JRA failed in its aims to bring about global change. The only surviving legacy is that he deemed those still at large dangerous enough that the Japanese authorities would continue to hunt them.