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Japan Arrests 4 Fugitives Deported From Lebanon

Asia: Red Army members suspected of terrorist acts face trials. Fifth member still at large.

March 19, 2000|From Associated Press

NARITA, Japan — Four Japanese Red Army members expelled from the Middle East were arrested upon entering Japan on Saturday, and authorities vowed to keep up pressure on an elusive comrade who stayed behind.

Police said the four, who had been deported from Lebanon after serving prison terms there, were taken into custody at Tokyo's main international airport less than an hour after they arrived.

Japan has long wanted to try the fugitives for their alleged roles in bloody attacks around the world in the 1970s, including one at Israel's Lod--now Ben Gurion--Airport in 1972 in which at least 24 people were killed.

The Red Army members are considered heroes by many in the Arab world for championing the Palestinian cause and opposing Israel, which occupies a border zone in southern Lebanon.

"It is significant they are now in the hands of our country's legal system," Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi was quoted by Kyodo News agency as saying in a statement. "It's a good example to show there is no place in the world where terrorists can enjoy a peaceful life."

After refusing to extradite them to Japan, Lebanon deported the four Friday to Jordan, diplomats in Amman said. Masao Adachi, 59, Haruo Wako, 50, Kazuo Tohira, 46, and the only woman, Mariko Yamamoto, 58, were handed over to Japanese diplomats in the Jordanian capital for escort back to Japan.

But Kozo Okamoto, who participated in the attack in Israel, remained at large. The Lebanese government granted him asylum, saying he still suffered "from physical and psychological injuries sustained while in Israeli prisons."

The 51-year-old Okamoto, the most notorious Red Army member, was freed by Israel in a 1985 prisoner swap with Palestinian guerrillas.

The Lebanese government committee considering the asylum requests said Okamoto was the only one of the five who actually had participated in what it called "resistance operations" against Israel.

Kosuke Hori, Japan's National Public Safety Commission chief, called Lebanon's decision on Okamoto "extremely regrettable" and said Tokyo would continue to seek his deportation from the country. Hori said the other four would stand trials.

Okamoto and the others finished three-year prison terms last week for illegally entering Lebanon and remained in custody pending asylum decisions.

Lebanon had cited the lack of an extradition treaty with Japan for refusing the extraditions. It also said the Japanese government does not have evidence confirming its accusations.

In what was seen as an attempt to avoid being sent home, Adachi recently married a Lebanese woman after converting to Greek Orthodox Christianity, while Okamoto and two of the remaining four converted to Islam.

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