On This Day: 50 years since JRA terrorists commit Lod Airport Massacre

The dead consisted of 17 Puerto Rican Christian pilgrims, a Canadian and eight Israelis, including Prof. Aharon Katzir.

 Lod Airport circa 1958, now known as Ben-Gurion Airport (Illustrative). (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Lod Airport circa 1958, now known as Ben-Gurion Airport (Illustrative).
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

May 30 marks the 50th anniversary of the Lod Airport Massacre, when terrorists from the Japanese Red Army carried out a brutal shooting that killed 26 people and wounded 80 others.

The shooting took place when three Japanese men in business suits disembarked at Lod Airport (known today as Ben-Gurion Airport) and took machine guns and grenades from their luggage, opening fire indiscriminately throughout the airport.

The incident was carried out in cooperation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The casualties 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 and brother of Ephraim Katzir, who became president of Israel the following year.

Where in the world is Kozo Okamoto?

Two of the shooters died during the incident but one, Kozo Okamoto, survived and was taken into custody.

 Kozo Okamoto, the ex-Japanese Red Army guerrilla who is wanted in Japan on terrorism charges, listens during a Hezbollah (Party of God) rally in Beirut October 5, 2000. (credit: REUTERS) Kozo Okamoto, the ex-Japanese Red Army guerrilla who is wanted in Japan on terrorism charges, listens during a Hezbollah (Party of God) rally in Beirut October 5, 2000. (credit: REUTERS)

After pleading guilty to avoid the death penalty, Okamoto was given a life sentence. But 13 years later, he was released in a prisoner exchange with the Palestinians in what was later known as the Jibril Agreement. He later moved to Lebanon and was given refugee status due to participating in "resistance operations against Israel." Now 73 years old, Okamoto is reported to still be living in Lebanon to this day, though he remains wanted by Japan.

In a rare interview given by Okamoto to Japanese daily The Mainichi Shimbun in 2017, Okamoto said he felt sorry for the victims but maintained "It was not a terrorist attack, but an armed struggle started jointly with the PFLP. Now, like in the past, armed struggles become the best propaganda."

"It was not a terrorist attack, but an armed struggle started jointly with the PFLP. Now, like in the past, armed struggles become the best propaganda."

Kozo Okamoto

The same interview also included quotes from Marwan Abdelal, who was the leader of the PFLP branch in Lebanon. Abdelal referred to Okamoto as the "last samurai" and vowed that he would continue to receive protection in Lebanon.

Reactions

The incident was especially shocking for Israel as well as Japan, with many reportedly having reacted in shock at the news of Japanese terrorism against Israel. However, the incident is perhaps most widely remembered outside of Israel in Puerto Rico, where the vast majority of casualties were from.

Since 2006, Puerto Rico has observed Lod Airport Massacre Remembrance Day every May 30.

 Leftist Japanese Red Army leader Fusako Shigenobu (C), surrounded by police, raises handcuffed hands upon arrival at Tokyo Station following her arrest in Osaka, western Japan November 8, 2000. Three decades of dodging international law enforcement authorities came to an end for the Red Army leader (credit: REUTERS) Leftist Japanese Red Army leader Fusako Shigenobu (C), surrounded by police, raises handcuffed hands upon arrival at Tokyo Station following her arrest in Osaka, western Japan November 8, 2000. Three decades of dodging international law enforcement authorities came to an end for the Red Army leader (credit: REUTERS)
Fusako Shigenobu's release

The 50th anniversary of the attack comes days after Japanese Red Army leader Fusako Shigenobu, who did not take part in the attack but was involved in planning it, was released from prison.

The 76-year-old had been serving prison time both for her role in planning the Lod airport massacre as well as an attack on the French embassy in The Hague in 1974 when the ambassador and others were held, hostage. 

Since her release, however, Palestinian NGOs have come out in celebration of her freedom

Her daughter, May Shigenobu, filmed herself and her mother at the release dressed in Palestinian keffiyehs – an event live-streamed by the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network.

It should be noted that before she founded the Japanese Red Army, Shigenobu had fought alongside the PFLP.

Consequently, she is held by many Palestinian organizations and movements as a revolutionary and ally in the Palestinian cause.

Michael Starr contributed to this report.