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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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: