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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 07:41 GMT 08:41 UK
Red Army hijack suspect returns
Yoshimi Tanaka
Yoshimi Tanaka had not set foot in Japan for 30 years
A former member of the radical Japanese Red Army group suspected of involvement in a 1970 hijacking has arrived in Tokyo after being extradited from Thailand.

It's good to be back home

Yoshimi Tanaka
Yoshimi Tanaka, who is now 51, is alleged to have been one of nine hijackers who seized a Japan Airlines jet during an internal flight and forced it to fly to South Korea.

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

Twenty-six years later Mr Tanaka was arrested in Cambodia for alleged involvement in a counterfeiting ring and he was put on trial in Thailand.

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

Japanese Red Army
Founded c. 1970
Stated goals: Overthrow Japanese government and monarchy, help foment world revolution
Some members thought to have joined revolutionary groups in Peru and Colombia
Although he was found not guilty on the counterfeiting charges, he was imprisoned pending the resolution of a Japanese extradition request.

Initially he fought moves to have him returned to Japan saying they were politically motivated. But in 1999 he conceded that he was prepared to stand trial in Japan to "compensate for our past conduct."

Last month a Thai court ruled that the charges he faced were criminal, not political, clearing the way for his extradition.

Arriving back in Japan for the first time in 30 years, a smiling Mr Tanaka told reporters it was "good to be back home".

"The road ahead will be long and difficult but I will persevere. Thank you all," he said.

He was then whisked away by Japanese police to begin his questioning.

Extremist group

Yoshimi Tanaka
Mr Tanaka has spent four years in Bangkok's high security prison
The Red Army was one of several extremist left-wing groups formed by dissidents from the Japanese student movements of the late 1960s.

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 eight other Red Army members involved in the JAL hijacking, four are still believed to be in North Korea, together with Mr Tanaka's wife and their three daughters.

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.

Another three have since died and the last was arrested in Japan in 1988 and served a five-year jail term.

In March four Red Army members suspected of involvement in separate attacks, including the one on Lod airport, were arrested on their return to Tokyo after being deported from Lebanon.

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18 Mar 00 | Middle East
Red Army guerrillas arrested
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