Japanese terror resurfaces in Middle East - as farce

the ruthless killers turned alleged counterfeiters
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The Independent Online
Better known for their ruthless murder of more than 20 pilgrims at Lod Airport outside Tel Aviv in 1972, the Japanese Red Army guerrilla group now appear to be little more than amateur forgers. Or so you must believe if you read the Lebanese indictments against five of its members, including the man - Kozo Okamoto - who organised the Lod massacre.

Page after page of government indictment documents released by Said Mirza, the Beirut preliminary investigative judge, show the Red Army members - apparently arrested with the help of three Japanese security agents - have spent much of their retirement in Beirut living under false names and counterfeiting fake passports and visas. The Lebanese state security authorities say they have discovered false official stamps, state seals, fraudulent passports and forged residence permits in the homes of the five, at least some of whom - and there is usually a comic element to such affairs here - enlisted the services of an amateur Lebanese acupuncturist.

Ten years in prison for forgery await some of the Japanese men and women arrested in Beirut in early March, although the Japanese government would like to extradite them for violent crimes. The counterfeits are remarkable, less for their professionalism than for the romantic notion that their owners could pass themselves off as Chinese, Spanish, Malaysian or Brazilian citizens.

When Major Elie Mnasa raided an apartment in west Beirut on the 7 March, for example, he found "a man... who produced a Singaporean passport number 2326760 with the name of Won Kim Soo" and a Japanese woman "who produced a Spanish passport number 73732418 with her photograph in the name of Tarin Garcia Maria Ambaro Sara".

Major Mnasa's men also found "cameras, currencies, [and] a Chinese passport number 523832 carrying the same photo as the Singaporean passport in the name of Wu Wencheng, along with a circular stamp bearing the Lebanese cedar tree emblem". There were further stamps for the Lebanese embassies in Athens and Stockholm, as well as false entry stamps, cameras, 161 computer discs, night binoculars, "a magnifying apparatus that is worn on the head", date stamps and ink removers.

The list of fake passports seems unending. In another raid on a Japanese home, Major Charles Atta was confronted with a man brandishing a Chinese passport in the name of An Yuping. He also found a Brazilian passport bearing the same Japanese man's photograph in the name of Jose Dias Gomes. The number of computers, batteries, electric drills and stamp pads discovered by the police defies imagination. It must have come as something of a relief to Major Ali Maad when a Japanese man and woman whose home he raided in Madame Curie street in Beirut at least presented two Japanese passports upon their arrest. Alas, both were forgeries.

Such an array of equipment for falsifying documents makes it impossible to establish exactly when the Red Army guerrillas arrived in Lebanon, but some may have spent the best part of two decades in the country. So what have they been doing all these years? Apart, that is, from being acupunctured by Omaya Aboud, a lady from the Bekaa valley whose role appears to have been totally innocent - despite initial apparent suspicions that she was assisting the Red Army veterans in their subterfuge.

Much time was taken up by the Lebanese interrogating the luckless Ms Aboud about her professional credentials, even to the point of asking her how many needles she would pierce into a human body during acupuncture treatment and to what depth. (The total appears to be 15 needles, to a depth of a quarter of an inch.) Although she admitted practising medicine without a government licence, the police seem to be convinced that she was not involved in what the Americans like to call "world terror".

There is, indeed, little evidence to suggest that the former Japanese Red Army members forged passports for any more sinister reason than a desire for a quiet life in the Switzerland of the Middle East. Several of the defendants seem to have counterfeited identity documents because they could not obtain Japanese passports in their own name - the Japanese embassy in Beirut being naturally unwilling to provide them with such documents when they were wanted in their own country for violent crimes. So stand by for the trial of the century - and the return of another 100 Japanese journalists - when the five are eventually brought to court.

An air of anti-climax is bound to prevail when that takes place. Mr Okamoto, for example, has already been tried and imprisoned in Israel for the Lod massacre, then released less than 10 years later with his comrades by the Israelis in return for a swap of Israeli military prisoners - Israel's war against "international terrorism" suddenly taking second place to the home- coming of its own soldier captives. The Japanese Red Army supported the more radical Palestinian extremist factions in the 1970s but, like Carlos and other former "most wanted men in the world", fell foul of international indifference.

Yet the Lebanese are also well aware that thousands of Arabs are trying to enter Europe every year with professionally forged passports and visas. There remains a suspicion that the Japanese prisoners, now languishing in Beirut's Roumieh jail, may have been turning a lucrative trade in assisting "refugees" to reach Sweden, Holland, Germany and other EU nations. There is an equally profound suspicion, however. that the Japanese government - once so pusillanimous in its pursuit of hijackers and assassins - is keen to restore their prestige in the eyes of the western world by grabbing the antiquated rogues of yesteryear for public trial in Tokyo.

Which may be why three Japanese arrested during the same March raids - now apparently revealed as Tokyo government security agents - were flown out of Beirut and taken home via Europe in the company of the head of Japan's top security agency.