Somewhere outside of Beirut, a 69-year old Japanese man is quietly living out his life in rest and leisure.
Enjoying a periodic swim in the Mediterranean when he isn’t relaxing on a sofa and watching television from his home country, he is said to enjoy a good bowl of rice each morning to start off his day.
But this is not your typical expat retiree, someone who deserves to spend his waning years in tranquility after a long and meaningful career. Our subject’s name is Kozo Okamoto, and 45 years ago this week he participated in one of the bloodiest and most shocking terror attacks against innocent civilians in the early 1970s – the Lod Airport Massacre.
If justice delayed is justice denied, then punishing Okamoto is long overdue and the time has come for the United States, Japan and others to press Lebanese officials to extradite the mass murderer they are harboring in their midst.
On May 30, 1972, Okamoto and two of his comrades from the Japanese Red Army, a communist terrorist organization, arrived on an evening flight from Rome to Lod (which would later be renamed Ben-Gurion Airport).
They had been hired by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a constituent member of the PLO, which trained them in Baalbek, Lebanon.
Amid a surge in Palestinian terror attacks, the PFLP decided it would be easier to use Japanese citizens to carry out a dramatic assault, as Israeli security officials would be less likely to suspect them.
After calmly making their way to the baggage claim area and retrieving their luggage, the smartly-dressed Japanese trio pulled out machine guns and began opening fire and hurling grenades at crowds of arriving tourists and airport personnel.
Two of the assailants were killed, including Tsuyoshi Okudaira, who had run out onto the tarmac and sprayed bullets at passengers as they disembarked from an El Al flight.
Okamoto was shot and injured by an airport security guard and the tackled by an El Al employee as he tried to flee the scene.
The attack did not last very long, but its results were chilling. The terrorists had murdered 26 people and wounded 80 others.
The dead consisted of 17 Puerto Rican Christian pilgrims, a Canadian and eight Israelis, including Prof. Aharon Katzir, the head of Israel’s National Academy of Sciences.
The Puerto Ricans, all of whom were US citizens, had come to visit the Holy Land and see the sites they had read about in the Bible. Their pastor, Reverend Angel Berganzo, was among those killed.
The attack was the first of its kind at an Israeli airport and it made headlines worldwide both for its audacious nature as well as its lethal outcome.
Israel put Okamoto on trial and he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. But just 13 years later, the unrepentant thug was released as part of the “Jibril deal,” in which Israel set free more than 1,150 terrorists as part of a prisoner exchange with Palestinian terror groups.
Upon gaining his freedom, Okamoto is said to have spent time in Libya and Syria before he was detained by Lebanese officials in February 1997 together with four other members of the Japanese Red Army for using forged passports to enter the country. After spending three years behind bars, Okamoto was released and the Lebanese government decided to grant him political asylum because he “had participated in resistance operations against Israel.”
So for the past 17 years, this fiend has been living openly on the outskirts of the Lebanese capital, just a few miles from the US embassy.
Indeed, it doesn’t appear to be too difficult to track him down. Just seven months ago, the Japan Times ran a news story describing how Okamoto resides with a Palestinian family and the PFLP continues to provide him with protection.
Needless to say, it does not appear that either the US or Japan has done much of anything to seek his extradition or punishment.
Over the past decade, Washington has provided more than $1 billion in military aid to Lebanon’s government, even as the latter has been graciously hosting a murderer with the blood of 17 Americans on his hands. And Japan has also sent humanitarian aid to Beirut, which seems odd given that the Lebanese government seems to have no qualms about sheltering a killer.
In 2008, relatives of the some of the murdered Puerto Rican pilgrims filed a lawsuit via the Shurat HaDin organization against North Korea, which had sponsored the PFLP through its support for the Japanese Red Army. Led by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, Shurat HaDin succeeded in winning a $378 million judgment against Pyongyang.
There is simply no reason why Okamoto should be allowed to continue enjoying outings at the beach and frolicking in the sea. He willfully participated in a cruel act of violence which destroyed the lives of innocents and set the stage for subsequent deadly attacks at airports worldwide.
Washington and Tokyo need to speak up and take firm steps against Beirut and compel Lebanon to arrest Okamoto and deport him to stand trial for his crimes.
The passage of time in no way diminishes the severity of what he did nor should it desensitize us to the need to bring him to justice.
The blood he spilled on the floor of Lod Airport may have been scrubbed away long ago, but Okamoto should not be left to spend the rest of his days staring out peacefully at the Mediterranean.
If the scourge of terrorism is to be defeated, then Kozo Okamoto, one of its preeminent and early practitioners, must finally be made to pay for his actions.