Middle East

Pro-Palestine co-founder of Japanese Red Army freed after 20 years

The female co-founder of the once-feared radical leftist militant Japanese Red Army group, Fusako Shigenobu, was released from prison yesterday after serving a 20-year sentence in connection to a 1974 French embassy siege in the Netherlands.

Greeted by the media, relatives and supporters, the 76-year-old expressed regret over hurting innocent people, stating “I feel strongly that I have finally come out alive.”

“I have hurt innocent people I did not know, by putting our struggles first,” she said.

“Although those were different times, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise deeply,” she added.

Dubbed the ‘Empress of terror’, Shigenobu is believed to have masterminded a string of hijackings and attacks throughout the 1970s and 1980s in support of the Palestinian liberation cause, including the 1975 takeover of the US Consulate in Kuala Lumpur and the 1972 machine gun and grenade attack on Israel’s Lod Airport which left 26 people dead and about 80 injured. Her release from prison came two days before the 50th anniversary of the Lod Airport attack.

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Shigenobu was seen wearing a black-and-white Palestinian kaffiyeh draped over her shoulders as she left a prison facility in Akishima, Tokyo. One of activist groups to welcome her release was the Palestine Youth Movement which described her as a “lifelong comrade of the Palestinian people and struggle.”

She had evaded capture for decades, having been listed as a wanted person by Interpol until she was arrested in 2000, in Osaka. She formally disbanded the Red Army a year later from her prison cell. Although Shigenobu was never present at any of the attacks, a Japanese court ruled in 2006 that he had

Shigenobu travelled to Lebanon in 1971 and founded the Japanese Red Army, a Marxist-Leninist organisation aiming to overthrow the Japanese government and monarchy.  The movement linked with Palestinian resistance factions, including the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

According to Japan News, several members of the group remain in hiding in the Middle East and elsewhere and are still wanted by authorities. One of the movement’s three members involved in the Israeli airport attack who was injured and arrested, Kozo Okamoto, was released by Israel as part of a prisoner exchange in 1985 between the Israeli army and Palestinian factions. He is reportedly a free man in Lebanon where he was granted asylum and converted to Islam.

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