February 19, 1972 | Japanese Red Army hostage taking

We may associate terrorism with killing and maiming but sometimes groups resort to taking hostages.

TODAY IN TERRORISM — I will go out on a limb and predict that few of my readers associate the words ‘terrorism’ and ‘Japan’. Sure, there were those apocalyptic Aum Shinrikyo goofballs and their charismatic leader Shoko Asahara who did execute a sarin attack on the Tokyo subway back in 1995 but you would be hard-pressed to find another group in the Land of the Rising Sun.

In fact, during my time at CSIS I met on a few occasions with my Japanese counterparts during G7 (or as it was for a brief time the G8 when we got along – ish with Russia) meetings. I recall that the Japanese delegation usually had very little to say at these gatherings. At first I chalked that up to language challenges (the G7 was a very English organisation) but I realised that they simply had very little to contribute to a conversation about terrorism.

On this day in 1972 the Japanese Red Army (JRA) engaged in a standoff with Japanese police at a ski resort where the group had taken a woman hostage.

Oh to have such a problem! Wouldn’t it be great if all of us had so little terrorism to talk about that we decided to stop meeting over it? I can’t foresee such a time but a guy can fantasise, can’t he?

Actually, at one point in the not-too-distant past there was a group that gave Japanese security authorities headaches. The band in question? The Japanese Army (JRA).

In truth the JRA was a bit of an outlier at the best of times. It is estimated that at its peak it never had more than 30-40 members, six of whom were ‘hard-core’: hell that is just enough to form a hockey team!

The Lod Airport massacre was a terrorist attack that occurred on May 30, 1972, in which three members of the Japanese Red Army recruited by the Palestinian group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-External Operations, attacked Lod Airport near Tel Aviv, killing 26 people and injuring 80 others.

1972 Japanese Red Army hostage taking

Nevertheless, in its goal to “overthrow the Japanese Government and monarchy and to help foment world revolution” it is believed to have been involved in an attack on the Lod Airport near Tel Aviv in May 1972 in which 26 people were killed and a further 80 injured. That plot was actually organised by the terrorist group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which had recruited three JRA members.

On this day in 1972 the JRA engaged in a standoff with Japanese police at a ski resort where the group had taken a woman hostage. A nine-day siege ensued and two police officers and a civilian were killed (another 12 were wounded). The government gave in to the hostage takers’ demands and the ringleader of the siege, Kunio Bando, was flown to Libya and disappeared.

The JRA is no more to the best of my knowledge. Maybe they were too small to achieve anything. Maybe they bit off more than they could chew: their alternative name was the Anti-Imperialist International Brigade after all. In any event it appears to have disbanded in 2001.

This demonstrates an important aspect to terrorist groups: few have any longevity at all and in the grand scheme of things have little impact.

And we should be grateful for that!


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