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Wanted Japanese Red Army member maintains 1972 airport attack wasn't terrorism

Kozo Okamoto is pictured in Beirut during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, in which he discussed the 1972 Lod Airport Massacre. (Mainichi)

BEIRUT -- The sole surviving Japanese Red Army member behind the 1972 Lod Airport Massacre near Tel Aviv, who remains on an international wanted list, has spoken with the Mainichi Shimbun in an interview here, depicting the terrorist attack as an armed struggle, while hinting at his nostalgia for Japan.

    Kozo Okamoto, 69, was one of three Japanese Red Army members who carried out the attack that killed 24 people and injured scores of other victims on May 30, 1972, but was the only one of them to survive. Fellow attackers Tsuyoshi Okudaira and Yasuyuki Yasuda died at the scene.

    The Japanese Red Army was formed in the 1970s by Fusako Shigenobu, 71, who is now serving time in a medical prison in the Tokyo city of Hachioji. The militant group, which espoused communism, cooperated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and other groups, and was also involved in hijackings and embassy assaults. The group weakened after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and is said to have disbanded in 2001.

    The assault on Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion International Airport) shocked the world as a desperate attack by young Japanese nationals, and is said to have served as a forerunner to subsequent suicide bombings.

    Okamoto spoke with the Mainichi in late April in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, where he has been granted political asylum. When asked about the terrorist attack, he replied, "I feel sorrow for the victims." However, he showed no remorse and gave no apologies for the brutal attack itself, saying, "It wasn't a terrorist attack, but an armed struggle started jointly with the PFLP. Now, like in the past, armed struggles become the best propaganda."

    Asked about his thoughts on returning to Japan, he said, "I lived in Japan for 24 years, but ever since, I've lived in the Middle East. I want to return once, but I don't think I'd be able to live there normally, so I'm not fixated on returning." At the same time, he gave a hint of nostalgia for Japan, saying, "The Olympics are going to be held in Tokyo again in 2020," adding, "I wanted to see my father again while he was alive."

    The Mainichi Shimbun also asked Okamoto about the fact that the world revolution that he had once sought had not occurred, but he didn't answer.

    Sources close to Okamoto say that he currently lives in Beirut. He sometimes travels to regional cities in Lebanon, but is always accompanied by body guards, the sources say.

    The Mainichi Shimbun also spoke to Marwan Abdelal, leader of the PFLP's branch in Lebanon, which is protecting Okamoto. He said that to the group, Okamoto is a "last samurai" -- a reference to the U.S. film in which a soldier from another country commits himself to discontented samurai. He added that Okamoto would be detained if he went back to Japan, and that it wouldn't be right for him to be incarcerated in Japan when he had already served time in Israel and Lebanon. The leader said Okamoto would continue to receive protection.

    Another source affiliated with the PFLP speculated that Okamoto's comments to the Mainichi Shimbun would probably mark his last full-fledged interview with a Japanese media organization.

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