TOKYO — Armed with newly minted Icelandic citizenship, a haggard but defiant Bobby Fischer walked out of a Japanese detention center today, more than eight months after being wrestled into custody for attempting to leave the country on an allegedly revoked U.S. passport.
Wearing a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, Fischer, 62, and Miyoko Watai, his Japanese fiancee, boarded a commercial airliner bound for Copenhagen with a connecting flight to Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital. The journey marks Fischer's first return to the remote island nation that played host to his historic 1972 victory over Russian rival Boris Spassky, and which embraced him again this week by granting him citizenship and allowing him to legally leave Japan.
His release ended for now a murky legal and personal saga that festered into a diplomatic irritant between the United States, Japan and, more recently, Iceland.
"I was kidnapped," the heavily bearded, former world chess champion told reporters clustered at the departure gates of Tokyo's Narita airport. "Bush is a criminal. He's a gangster."
Since immigration officers arrested Fischer at the same airport July 13, Washington has demanded his deportation to face criminal charges that he violated American economic sanctions against the former Yugoslavia by playing a match against Spassky in Serbia in 1992.
Fischer countered that he was being persecuted for his political beliefs, which include a long record of anti-Semitic statements. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he also called a Manila radio station to proclaim the violence as "wonderful news."
It is not yet certain whether Fischer, a native New Yorker, has won his war with the Bush administration, or merely a round. U.S. media reports say a grand jury has been convened to examine Fischer's tax records.
Iceland has an extradition treaty with the United States, and Washington could pursue him by filing charges that he committed acts that are criminal in both countries, such as a tax offense. Fischer's supporters say he would fight any move to extradite him.
Masako Suzuki, Fischer's Japanese lawyer, said his only reaction when told that the Icelandic Parliament had voted to grant him citizenship in 12 minutes was to mutter, "Good," and ask the margin of the vote.
Parliament voted 40 to 0, with two abstentions and 21 members absent.
Granting Icelandic citizenship to Fischer required a special act of Parliament because the process requires an applicant to have been a resident for five years. John Bosnitch, a Tokyo-based Canadian consultant advising Fischer, called Iceland's decision to speed the process historic, "by standing up to the Earth's sole superpower and demonstrating it can no longer bully individuals or nations."
But Thordur Aegir Oskarsson, Iceland's ambassador to Japan, said there was no significant anti-American sentiment in the decision to make Fischer an Icelander.
Instead, the ambassador said, the decision to waive the five-year residency requirement was done out of nostalgia for the moment when the Fischer-Spassky match forced the world to scour maps to locate the nation, whose population is less than 300,000.
"We are a micro-state, and Fischer gave us one of our two moments in history," said Oskarsson in an interview, noting that the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavik was the other. "Despite all of his antics during the match with Spassky, he created something special with our people outside the chess."
In Washington, a State Department spokesman expressed disappointment this week at news that Fischer would be released. "Mr. Fischer is a fugitive from justice," Adam Ereli said.
Oskarsson said there were iconic photos in Iceland taken at the time of the Spassky match, showing Fischer baby-sitting his Icelandic bodyguard's children so the couple could go to a movie, and others of him talking to farmers in their fields.
"It's an instinct to like him that has lasted all these years," Oskarsson said. "So even though people know he may have made some stupid statements, people in Iceland say: 'We owe him one. We owe it to be kind to him.' "
Rie Sasaki of The Times' Tokyo Bureau contributed to this report.