The Rise of Terrorism Questions and Answers

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What is the signficance of Fusako Shigenobu and her Japanese Red Army?

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Following the demise of the United Red Army terrorist organization during the early 1970s, the members either murdered by their own colleagues or captured and imprisoned by the Japanese government, one of the surviving members, Fusako Shigenobu became leader of the Japanese Red Army, another terrorist organization closely allied with the Damascus, Syria-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a particularly violent Marxist-Leninist organization dedicated both to the destruction of Israel and to the destruction of capitalism and its replacement with communist systems of government.   Led by George Habash, the PFLP was active in airplane hijackings and bombings of Israeli targets.  Shigenobu, who settled in Lebanon, and the Japanese Red Army grew very close to the PFLP and carried out terrorist operations normally associated with Arab or Muslim organizations.  In fact, the PFLP, particularly the late Wadi Haddad, an important figure in Middle Eastern terrorist circles, used the Japanese Red Army to carry out terrorist attacks because the Japanese citizens who comprised the Red Army could more easily travel around regions where Arabs would be more closely scrutinized for potential ties to organizations like the PFLP, the PFLP-General Command, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other organizations, some of which were off-shoots or break-away factions that considered more “mainstream” terrorist organizations insufficiently violent.  The Japanese Red Army’s most famous terrorist operation was its May 30, 1972 on Lod Airport (now Ben-Gurion Airport) in Tel Aviv, Israel.  The three Japanese terrorists opened fire on the civilian travelers in the airport terminal with automatic weapons, killing 26 people and wounding another eighty.  Seventeen of the dead were Christian pilgrims visiting Israel for the purpose of touring the holy sites there.

Fusako Shigenobu had been a left-wing student activist during her college years in Japan in the 1960s.  Following college, and established now as a militant leader of Japan’s communist movement, Shigenobu relocated to the Middle East in the early 1970s, where she remained for several decades.  Apparently, she returned to Japan around 2000 and was promptly arrested, tried and convicted of using forged documents and of aiding the Red Army in its use of forged passports and other documents.  She was not convicted of the most serious charge – participation in the Red Army’s seizure of the French Embassy in the Hague – but her sentence of 20 years clearly indicates that the Japanese judicial system closely identifies her with the worst of the Red Army’s actions.  She remains in prison where she is currently being treated for cancer.  She remains a committed communist.

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