International Terrorist Arrested in Japan

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London ( - Japanese police Wednesday arrested the country's most wanted woman, and the leader of one of the world's most lethal and "successful" terrorist groups, the Japanese Red Army.

Fusako Shigenobu, 55, was arrested in the city of Osaka and taken to Tokyo, according to reports from Japan. Upon her arrival in the capital she shouted "I'll fight on," to reporters.

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori congratulated the police on capturing her after decades on the run.

The JRA was responsible in the 1970s and 1980s of a range of atrocities, including the 1972 shooting massacre of 26 people in a crowded airport in Tel Aviv, hijackings and seizure of hostages for ransoms or to win the release of jailed comrades.

It has enjoyed the close cooperation of Palestinian terrorists, and at various times the support of Libya, Lebanon, Syria and North Korea.

Shigenobu, a member of a radical leftist group inside Japan in the 1960s, left her homeland in 1971 to set up the JRA in Lebanon.

According to a 1997 Japanese media report, she earned the nickname "Black Widow" after marrying an underling the night before he participated in the attack on the Tel Aviv airport - effectively a suicide mission.

"Shigenobu takes pride in the fact that her ... fighters fought pitched battles against the [1978 or 1982] Israeli invasion of Lebanon in alliance with the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command," the report said.

Attacks attributed to the JRA during its 17 years of terror included the hijacking of Japanese airliners in 1973 and 1977, the seizure of the French Embassy in The Hague (1974), the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur (1974), attacks on Japanese, U.S. and Canadian embassies in Jakarta (1986), attacks on U.S. and British embassies in Rome (1987), and a car bombing at a U.S. military club in Naples (1988) which killed give, including a U.S. servicewoman.

With the end of the Cold War, the group found its Mideast hosts less accommodating. In around 1993 its members were forced to leave Syrian-controlled Lebanon and reportedly began looking for alternative bases in Europe, Asia and Latin America

Terror experts say it succeeded in establishing close ties to the Peruvian terrorist group Tupac Amaru, and were probably heavily involved in the four-month hostage siege at the residence of the Japanese ambassador in Lima, which ended in April 1997 when Peruvian special forces raided the compound.

Halfway through the siege, five veteran JRA activists flew from Peru back to Lebanon, but found the safe haven was no longer available. They were arrested.

The five included one Kozo Okamoto, who had taken part in the Tel Aviv airport attack 27 years earlier, and served 13 years of a life sentence in an Israeli jail before being freed as part of a 1985 Israeli-Arab prisoner exchange.

After three years in jail, Lebanon deported four of them to Japan earlier this year. Only Okamoto was allowed to remain in Lebanon, and granted asylum, the government said, because of "physical and psychological injuries" he had suffered.

Exactly where leader Shigenobu has been hiding out until her arrest Wednesday has not been publicly known.

Japan's National Police Agency suspect her of direct involvement in at least two major JRA attacks - the French Embassy seizure and the bombing of the U.S. military club in Naples.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow