Today in terrorism: September 28, 1977

Japan is not a nation one normally associates with terrorism. In fact, aside from the Aum Shinrikyo attacks in 1995 in the Tokyo subway, I challenge anyone to come up with a long list of attacks or even attempted attacks in the ‘land of the rising sun’. It just doesn’t seem to be the target of violent extremists.

A few decades ago things were slightly different. There was a group known as the Japanese Red Army (JRA), formed around 1970 after breaking away from Japanese Communist League’s Red Army Faction. It was led by a female, Fusako Shigenobu, until her arrest in Japan in November 2000 and was bent on the overthrow of the Japanese Government and monarchy and the launch of world revolution. That did not work out so well. Interestingly, for a ‘terrorist’ group it was pretty small at the best of times: six core members and 30-40 followers at its peak.

The JRA was behind a few big attacks, especially a massacre at Israel’s Lod Airport in 1972 in which three members opened fire in the baggage hall, killing 23 and wounding 76. Today’s focus is on an airline hijacking in India on this day in 1977 in which the JRA took command of the plane and ordered it flown to Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital. Once on the tarmac there the hijackers took the passengers and crew hostage, demanding US$6 million and the release of nine imprisoned JRA members.

On 1 October the Japanese Prime Minister announced that his government would accept the hijackers’ demands, on the principle that “the life of a single person outweighs the earth.” Six of the imprisoned JRA members were then released: all the hijackers were eventually freed in Dhaka, Damascus and Algiers.

The Japanese government decision certainly contrasted with the age-old advice of ‘never negotiate with terrorists’. Despite their ‘victory’, however, the JRA faded into oblivion. They never got anywhere near their takeover of their country and their major attacks were not even perpetrated in Japan. Maybe they didn’t ‘win’ after all.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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