Japan confirms death penalty for extremists

TOKYO - Two Japanese Red Army members were yesterday sentenced to death by the Supreme Court, 21 years after they tortured to death 12 of their comrades and then killed two policemen in a gun battle at a mountain lodge, writes Terry McCarthy.

The Supreme Court's decision to uphold lower courts' rulings on Hiroko Nagata, 48, and Hiroshi Sakaguchi, 46, ended a long legal process of lower court rulings and appeals.

Nagata and Sakaguchi were found guilty of torturing to death 12 other members of the ultra-leftist revolutionary group, then called the United Red Army, between December 1971 and February 1972. They had accused their comrades of betraying the movement. Acting on a tip-off, the police surrounded the terrorists' hide-out, but two policemen and a photographer were killed before the terrorists surrendered. In addition to the 15 murders in the mountains, the pair were also found guilty of strangling to death two other comrades who tried to leave the United Red Army in August 1971.

Although the violence shocked Japan at the time, the dissension within the group which led to the killings effectively put an end to the group's activities in Japan. A number fled to the Middle East, where they regrouped to form the Japanese Red Army.

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