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Thursday, 14 February, 2002, 11:36 GMT
Japanese Red Army hijacker jailed
Yoshimi Tanaka on his arrival back in Japan
Tanaka apologised to the hijacking victims
A former member of the radical Japanese Red Army group has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for his role in the hijacking of an airliner to North Korea in 1970.

Yoshimi Tanaka pleaded guilty to the charges during his trial in a Tokyo district court and apologised to the passengers of the hijacked plane.


The accused... watched over the whole thing with a samurai sword

Judge Masazo Ogura
He was one of nine hijackers who seized a Japan Airlines jet on an internal flight and forced it to fly to South Korea.

After releasing all 130 hostages, they flew on to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, where they were granted political asylum.

Judge Masazo Ogura said the case had raised international tension and "gave the passengers and their families immeasurable physical and psychological pain and fear".

Hijacking role

Tanaka took the lead in the hijacking, the judge said.

"The accused was the first who broke into the cockpit and took control. He played an important role by watching over the whole thing with a samurai sword," the judge was quoted as saying.

Yoshimi Tanaka
Tanaka has already spent four years in a Bangkok prison for fraud

But many questions remain unanswered about the activities of Tanaka and his fellow Red Army members following the hijacking.

He was arrested on the Vietnamese-Cambodian border in 1996, where he was alleged to have been involved in a North Korean operation to counterfeit US dollars.

He was eventually extradited to Japan in June 2000 to face the kidnapping charges.

At the time of his arrest he was reported to have been travelling in a North Korean diplomatic vehicle.

There have long been charges that Red Army faction members served as North Korean agents.

Extremist group

The Red Army was one of several extremist left-wing groups formed by dissidents from the Japanese student movements of the late 1960s.

Japanese Red Army
Founded around1970
Stated goals to : overthrow Japanese Government and monarchy, help foment world revolution
Some members thought to have joined revolutionary groups in Peru and Colombia

In the 1970s it was responsible for bombings and attacks on embassies and airports in Japan and around the world.

Its most notorious attack took place at Israel's Lod (now Ben Gurion) Airport in 1972, when 24 people were killed in a hail of machine-gun fire and bomb blasts.

Of the other hijackers, three or four are thought to have died while the rest are still living with their families in North Korea.

Pyongyang has rejected requests from Japan and the US for their expulsion, saying the hijackers are political exiles who fled persecution by the Japanese authorities.

See also:

18 Mar 00 | Middle East
Red Army guerrillas arrested
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