Japanese Red Army: End of a Global Reign of Terror

Japanese Red Army: End of a Global Reign of Terror

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Japanese Red Army end
How a string of violent attacks and a shifting political landscape spelled the end for the Japanese Red Army.

Japan Air Lines Flight 404 from Amsterdam was en route to Anchorage and Tokyo on July 20, 1973. It had only been in the air for a short time.

Suddenly, the concussive sounds of an explosion tore through the cabin’s monotonous drone.

Of the 120 passengers on board, only six had not been Japanese. Two of them were a young couple who claimed to be husband and wife. The “wife,” traveling on a Peruvian passport, had gone to the lounge for a drink. She had been chatting with the head steward when a hand grenade fell out of her jacket. It exploded, instantly killing the woman.

In reality, she was an Iraqi national and operative from the Marxist Palestinian revolutionary group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Her name was Katie Thomas, and she had boarded the plane to hijack it.

The head steward lay on the cabin floor, stunned, covered in blood – both his own and Katie’s. Beyond the smoldering corpse, he saw a Japanese man and four Palestinians get up from their seats. Each was brandishing automatic weapons, and more grenades. Within moments, the airplane was under the surviving hijackers’ control.

The Japanese Red Army, International Terrorist Group

The Japanese hijacker who now found himself taking over leadership of the operation was one Maruoka Osamu (丸岡修). Like many of his revolutionary contemporaries, the young Maruoka’s father had been a soldier in WWII. His father had maintained a far-right nationalistic zeal even after the war, something which had greatly influenced Maruoka. He’d desired to become a soldier in the Japanese Self Defense Force, protecting Japan – but his experience in high school changed his perspective.

Learning about the horrors of the Vietnam war caused a shift in the young man’s political leanings. Newly introduced to the still-significant leftist student movement of the time, Maruoka soon came under the influence of a leftist teacher who had ties with the now-infamous Marxist terrorists, Okudaira Tsuyoshi and Okamoto Kozo. Both had been members of the international arm of the Japanese Red Army, a violent political organization that was devoted to sparking a global revolution. Both had participated in the bloody 1972 attack on Lod Airport in Israel, where they had murdered 24 travelers, the majority of whom had been Christian Puerto Rican pilgrims. Okudaira had died in the attack; Okamoto was now rotting in an Israeli jail. Their former teacher had encouraged the young Maruoka to head to the Levant; there, he would eventually take Okudaira and Okamoto’s place.

With her dead, Maruoka was unsure where his cohort should ground the plane. Click To Tweet

Here They Go, Hijacking Again

Once in Lebanon, Maruoka had met up with the leader of the JRA: the notorious Shigenobu Fusako. After overseeing his training with the JRA-associated PFLP, Shigenobu sent Maruoka to represent her organization in this, its first major operation in two years.

But now the death of his female companion had left Maruoka in a state of crisis. The ringleaders had given Katie the most details on their hijacking plans. With her dead, Maruoka was unsure where his cohort should ground the plane.

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Noah Oskow

Serving as current UJ Editor-in-Chief, Noah Oskow is a professional Japanese translator and interpreter who holds a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He has lived, studied, and worked in Japan for nearly seven years, including two years studying at Sophia University in Tokyo and four years teaching English on the JET Program in rural Fukushima Prefecture. His experiences with language learning and historical and cultural studies as well as his extensive experience in world travel have led to appearances at speaking events, popular podcasts, and in the mass media. Noah most recently completed his Master's Degree in Global Studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

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