TOKYO — When the end finally came after 28 years on the run, Fusako Shigenobu seemed ready for it. The 55-year-old founder of the notorious Japanese Red Army terrorist group went quietly into custody Wednesday, flashing a thumbs up to reporters and refusing to be intimidated by police.
The infamous revolutionary, looking more like a grandmother at her capture than a feared Communist operative, is credited with being one of the architects of a long reign of terror by the radical leftist group. Between 1972 and 1988, the Red Army staged a series of bloody bombings, hijackings, rocket attacks and hostage-takings that killed or injured 130 people.
Years of living on the lam and a world increasingly dismissive of the radicalism of the late 1960s appeared to take its toll on group members and the Red Army's image.
Reporters who interviewed Shigenobu in the 1980s reported that the firebrand radical of old was overweight and had crow's-feet. After 1988, as its energy increasingly turned to avoiding arrest and capture, the group's activities shifted from attack to defense.
"This is probably the effective end of the Red Army," said Akira Mizoguchi, chief researcher with Tokyo's Middle East Institute of Japan. "The world made it increasingly difficult for them to attain their hoped-for revolution."
Shigenobu was taken into custody Wednesday morning after police nabbed her outside a small hotel in Osaka. Authorities were following up on a tip they received this summer that she had returned to Japan after decades of exile in the Middle East. They narrowed their search to Osaka after someone matching Shigenobu's description was reported living in a two-room apartment in Japan's second-largest city.
When she was arrested, Shigenobu was carrying a laptop computer, an apartment key and more than $9,000 in cash. A search of the apartment turned up two fake passports.
The Red Army jumped onto the world stage in 1972 with an attack on Tel Aviv's Lod Airport that killed 24 people. Two of the attackers also died. Over the next three years, the group blew up a Japan Airlines jet in Libya, torched a Singapore oil refinery, seized the French Embassy in the Netherlands and took over a U.S. Consulate in Malaysia.
In September 1977, five Red Army members hijacked another JAL plane over India and forced it to land in Algeria where they secured the release of six prisoners and won $6 million. The group then went underground until 1986, when it showed a newfound preference for attacks from afar.
The last major terrorist act attributed to the group occurred in April 1988, when it bombed a U.S. military club in Naples, Italy, killing five people.
Investigators are trying to work out Shigenobu's role in the attacks. She is directly blamed for planning the French Embassy attack. But the Red Army splintered into three parts in the 1970s, and it is not clear how much communication existed between the factions. In recent years, Shigenobu reportedly was pursuing a course of moderation.
For most of its history, the Red Army has been closely aligned with Palestinian militants. Shigenobu reportedly married a Lebanese radical after fleeing to that country nearly three decades ago.
The Red Army is one of 28 global terrorist organizations listed in annual U.S. State Department reports. Ordinary Japanese said Thursday after hearing of the arrest that the group seemed like an anachronism.
"I'd completely forgotten about their activities," said Hisako Iizuka, a 52-year-old Tokyo resident. "I'm surprised to hear they were still pursuing the fantasy of creating a Communist utopia."
Shigenobu is the ninth Red Army member to be captured since 1995. The others were caught in places as far-flung as Romania and Bolivia after more countries signed treaties to exchange information and otherwise cooperate to eliminate international terrorism.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry cautioned that terrorist groups may step up attacks abroad following Shigenobu's arrest.