Red Army arrests bring Japan's media brigade to Beirut, then trail goes cold

First the actors: five ageing members of the Japanese Red Army, an equally pensioned-off Hizbollah leader, a Japanese government security unit, the Lebanese foreign and interior ministers, up to 100 Japanese journalists, a female Lebanese acupuncturist and a large number of mysterious plain-clothes security agents. The scene: Beirut. The play: a farce in three acts.

Act One, dear reader, seems the most sensible. In the early hours of 15 February, security agents arrest four Japanese men, a Japanese woman and a Lebanese woman. The Independent can confirm that one of the Japanese was taken from his third-floor home in the Rajah Saab building in the Mazraa district by men claiming to work for Lebanese "state security police" at three in the morning. Plain-clothes cops - if that is what they were - surrounded the apartment block, forcing the concierge to let them in and then departing with the Japanese man, possibly a Japanese woman as well, and a truck load of "machines" (to quote one eyewitness) which may or may not have been printing-presses to forge visas and passports.

Elsewhere in Beirut, two more Japanese are seen being arrested. So is one in the Bekaa, and - at a different location in the valley - Omaya Aboud, the 35-year old acupuncturist. She is taken to Zahle, where her family sees her in a prison cell, and then she disappears. So too do the five Japanese. But two days later - on 17 February - the Japanese prime minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, announces that the Lebanese have arrested up to six members of the Japanese Red Army, the radical, pro-Palestinian - and very vicious - movement which claimed responsibility for a series of attacks and hijackings in Europe, the Middle East and Asia in the 1970s. Its cruellest assault was at Tel Aviv airport where in 1972 a Red Army squad, including a man called Kozo Okamoto, machine-gunned to death 20 pilgrims and wounded another 100 civilians.

Within hours of Mr Hashimoto's revelation - and Japan's instructions to its embassies to bolt all doors for fear of revenge attacks - Lebanese officials let it be known that they had indeed arrested five Red Army members, including the now 49-year-old Okamoto. Out of Tokyo flies a Japanese security team, en route to Beirut with instructions to arrange the extradition of the wanted Red Army members. Also arriving in Beirut are up to 100 Japanese reporters and camera crews. The Lebanese foreign minister, Farez Bouiez, says the Japanese are being "interrogated". And who knows, maybe the long-hoped-for Japanese investment in Lebanon's post-war reconstruction will be forthcoming at last. End of Act One.

Act Two opens with a Lebanese journalist observing that "there are more Japanese here than participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor", a remark which made up in passion what it lacked in accuracy. More than 180 Japanese pilots took part in the attack on the United States naval base, 29 of whom failed to return to their six aircraft carriers. But Admiral Yamamoto probably spent less money bringing America into the Second World War than the Japanese press are coughing up in Lebanon for their fleets of hire cars, mobile phones and armies of interpreters.

The journalistes nippons - as the French-language press here delicately puts it - have been touring the villages of the Bekaa Valley searching for another 40 alleged Red Army members whom the Israelis claim live there. An odd lead, perhaps, since the Israelis - incredibly - themselves released Okamoto in a 1985 prisoner exchange.

Lebanese village women have been seen giving the Hitler salute to the cruising Japanese scribes and cheerfully shouting "jesh ahmar" - "Red Army" - at the stunned journalists. And in the Beirut law courts, berobed barristers have been astonished to see batteries of equally earnestJapanese reporters shouting "mush-mush" into their mobile phones. In Japanese, mush-mush means hallo. In Arabic, it means apricot. Why on earth were the Japanese ordering fruit from Tokyo over the telephone? At the Lebanese foreign ministry, the exasperated Japanese ambassador, Yasuji Ishikagi, was told that the Lebanese knew nothing of the Japanese detainees - who are also supposed to include Mariko Yamamoto, Kazuo Tohira, Masao Adachi and Hisashi Matsuda - even though minister Bouiez had earlier said they were being interrogated.

Act Three is dire indeed. Rumours - of varying degrees of sanity - wash through the Lebanese press corps. Syria ordered the arrests because it believed the Red Army had bombed a civilian bus in Damascus at Christmas - a crime for which Israel and Turkey have also been blamed. Or Syria knew nothing - a likely tale indeed - but is angry that it was not informed of the arrests nor of the gratitude that might be earned from the Japanese. Or that Syria wanted to get taken off the US list of states that "support terrorism" by picking up the Red Army bad guys. Or that a lone member of the Lebanese state security police had ordered the arrests without telling the interior minister Michel Murr, who now claims he knows absolutely nothing about any Japanese being held anywhere. Or that prime minister Rafiq Hariri, the overall commander of "state security", was trying to elicit Japanese investment. Or that Father Christmas exists.

In the Bekaa, Sheikh Sobhi Tofaili, a former Hizbollah leader, demands Okamoto's release on the grounds that he was the author of "the heroic attack" at Tel Aviv. In Japan, the Red Army supposedly warns the Lebanese to release its members. But does this threat come from the Red Army, asks the Lebanese press? Or from the Japanese government pretending to be the Red Army? Ms Aboud's family demand to know where acupuncturist Omaya is, insisting that she has nothing to do with the Red Army (which anyway normally carried out acupuncture by riddling people with bullets).

Last night, President Hrawi (father-in-law of Bouiez) was demanding an explanation from the government. Prime minister Hariri, just returned from visiting the Pope, was asking much the same. Lebanese public security director Raymond Raphael, who has sensibly kept his own surete force out of the whole mess, once said that security organisations were like "a fisherman's net - when you drop it into the ocean, it collects a large variety of fish". But whether in Beirut or Damascus, these particular fish are beginning to smell.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
This weekend's 'Big Hero 6' by Disney Animation Studios
arts + ents
News
i100
News
Budapest, 1989. Sleepware and panties.
newsDavid Hlynsky's images of Soviet Union shop windows shine a light on our consumerist culture
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
News
In humans, the ability to regulate the expression of genes through thoughts alone could open up an entirely new avenue for medicine.
science
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee