North Korea’s forgotten past

ByNITSANA DARSHAN-LEITNER
May 29, 2012 21:47

After Israel's strike on fledgling Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, North Korea’s involvement in Middle East revealed for 1st time.




Japanese Red Army 1997

Japanese Red Army 1997. (photo credit:REUTERS)

In the aftermath of the Israeli strike on the fledgling Syrian nuclear reactor at Deir ez-Zor on September 6, 2007, North Korea’s involvement in fueling Middle East conflict and warfare was revealed publicly to many around the world for the first time. Indeed, the Syrian reactor had been modeled upon similar reactors in North Korea and it is suspected that Pyongyang assisted in both building and outfitting the Syrian facility.

More recently, shipments of North Korea missiles destined for Iran, Libya, Syria and other outlaw regimes in the region have been intercepted or turned back by the United States. Reports have also surfaced of North Korea assisting Hezbollah to build underground bunker systems in southern Lebanon to safeguard its rocket launchers from Israeli aerial attacks.

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While today North Korea is finally acknowledged to be a major player in providing support and resources to the terrorist groups infesting our region, its involvement in aiding those extremist organizations that target the Jewish state had begun many decades earlier.

Forty years ago, on May 30, 1972, an Air France jet landed at Israel’s then Lod International Airport. Three terrorists, members of the North Korean-backed Japanese Red Army (JRA) were among its passengers. After passing through border control they moved to claim their belongings from the baggage carousel, just like the rest of the new arrivals.


Earlier, these terrorists, who planned the attack along with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), placed grenades and machine-guns in their bags, taking advantage of the fact that in those days only carry-on luggage was screened for weapons.

Dozens of civilians were caught in the death trap, including Air France passengers, other arriving parties, airport employees and even bystanders waiting behind the glass wall for their returning family members. As a result, 24 people were murdered and 72 were injured, including eight Israelis and 16 Puerto Rican Catholic pilgrims who arrived on the same Rome flight the terrorists were on.

Among those killed was Professor Aharon Katzir, a renowned scientist and brother of the future Israeli president Ephraim Katzir.

Two of the three Japanese terrorists did not survive the attack, while one, the infamous Kozo Okamoto, was captured, placed on trial and imprisoned until he was released in a 1985 prisoner exchange for Israeli soldiers.

As Israel and families of the victims mark the 40th anniversary of the Lod Airport Massacre, one recalls not just the numerous lives that were lost during the attack, but moreover the detrimental effect rogue governments have had in sponsoring and directing these proxy terrorist groups.

Undeniably, their links to the terrorist organizations have allowed the extremists to receive the financial support and weaponry required to successfully execute their murderous operations that target civilians. This was the case at Lod, with Pyongyang providing training and funding for the JRA including sending advisers to the PLO’s Lebanese terrorist bases and flying JRA and PFLP members to North Korea. Indeed, it was this regime of terror that provided PFLP founder George Habash a state welcome and funds shortly before the May 30, 1972, attack.

The recognition that outlaw governments were responsible for the activities committed by their proxy terrorist groups was given more substantive legal documentation decades after the 1972 attack. In a lawsuit brought on behalf of Puerto Rican-American families by the Osen LLC group and myself, and made possible through a Congressionally legislated exception to the United States’ Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, which revokes immunity from regimes designated as “States Sponsors of Terrorism” for the criminal acts they engage in, North Korea was sued for its role in the Lod Airport Massacre in a San Juan federal court.

The plaintiffs alleged that Pyongyang provided training, ideology courses, weapons, safe haven and funds to the JRA and PFLP. North Korea’s goal was to attack Israel, a close ally of the United Stares, in an effort to bolster its importance among the Soviet Union’s client regimes and to advance its objective of spreading communist revolution.

As is still the case today, many outlaw regimes felt that by attacking Israel and murdering its civilians they could strike a blow against the United States.

The litigation rendered a historic decision in June 2010, finding that North Korea had provided material resources and support to the JRA and PFLP which perpetrated the murderous attack and was itself liable for the murder and maiming of the massacre victims. The court ruled that North Korea was required to pay $378 million in compensation and punitive damages to the Puerto Rican families who had been injured or lost loved ones in the Lod Airport attack.

The victory made clear that terrorist-sponsoring regimes like Pyongyang needed to be vigilantly fought militarily, diplomatically and by the private sector as well. Thus, for the first time, North Korea was shown to have been a decades-long supporter of Middle East terrorism and a destabilizing force in the region. Pyongyang was now required to pay for their extremist policy.

All too often Western governments like the United States and Israel are obstructed from combating and thwarting the criminal regimes as a result of diplomatic and political restraints. Over the years the Europeans, Russians and Chinese, as well as the United Nations, have repeatedly stayed the hands of those seeking to deliver a decisive blow to regimes that aid and abet international terrorism.

National leaders have been tethered by treaties, constituencies, long-held foreign policies, diplomacy and political correctness, and have been unable to take decisive action.

Consequently it is the private sector, including its attorneys, that has a continuing opportunity to step into this vacuum and provide leadership where none otherwise exists.

On this 40th anniversary of the Lod Airport Massacre we not only memorialize the victims, but are reminded that justice against North Korea, which along with the JRA and PFLP perpetrated the heinous 1972 crime, can and must be pursued decades later.

The writer is an attorney and the director of Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, which represents terror victims in lawsuits against terror groups, their leaders and state backers. Their website: http://www.israellawcenter.org

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