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From the Japanese 'Mariam' to the Russian Vladimir

From the Japanese 'Mariam' to the Russian Vladimir

Monday, 30 May, 2022 - 06:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The world was too preoccupied with the Russian war on Ukraine to pay attention to the news of her release from Tokyo prison on Saturday. She completed her 20-year prison sentence. She was quick to apologize for the pain she had caused to the hostages held by her comrades. She also was quick to wrap herself in a Palestinian keffiyeh.

Her story could have been irrelevant were it not connected to the Palestinian cause and two significant figures. The first figure is Palestinian leader Dr. Wadie Haddad, who shook the world and its conscience with plane hijackings. The second is Venezuela's infamous Carlos who is serving a life sentence at French prison.

She is Fusako Shigenobu, the co-founder of the Japanese Red Army, which was formed in Lebanon.

The story begins in the early 1970s. A young Japanese girl dreams of a world revolution and armed struggle against "imperialism and oppression." At the time, the "foreign arm" of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine had grown attractive to leftist and revolutionary movements from around the world.

The Japanese group contacted the "foreign arm" and Haddad decided to allow it to take part in its operations, along with other foreigners, such as the Baader–Meinhof Group, Italy's Red Brigades and others. Haddad met Fusako and gave her the nom de guerre "Mariam".

The world will be stunned with the attack on Israel's Lod Airport in Tel Aviv in 1972. Twenty-six people were killed and 80 wounded in the operation that was carried out by three Japanese attackers. One was killed, another committed suicide and the third, Kozo Okamoto, was arrested. He was later released and sought political asylum in Lebanon.

The Japanese group was trained at a camp belonging to the "foreign arm" in Lebanon's Baalbek region. Haddad was the mastermind of the semi-suicidal operation.

Two years later, Fusako's comrades would take part in the five-day hostage taking at the French embassy in The Hague, the Netherlands. That event would coincide with a no less shocking development. "Salem" carried out a hand grenade attack against the Le Publicis Drugstore cafe in Paris, killing two people and wounding 34.

"Salem" is the nom de guerre of Venezuela's Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, who would later be known as Carlos and become world infamous for taking hostage OPEC ministers in Vienna - an idea that was conceived by a man called Moammar al-Gaddafi.

Haddad was good at seizing any opportunity to support his battle. One day, one of his operatives said he has recruited a young Kurdish Iraqi to carry out missions in Europe. When I asked him about the name of the youth, he declined to identify him because he had become well-known. I made note of this and began my search to find out his identity.

During an interview with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, I took him by surprise when I asked him if Haddad had ever tasked him to carry out attacks in Europe. Talabani confessed to being that man. After the interview, a smiling Talabani urged me against writing at length about the nature of those missions "lest our American friends jump to conclusions that the Iraqi president is a former terrorist." I published his confession and respected his wish to speak briefly about the issue.

Fusako spent long years hiding in the Middle East. She never found anyone like Wadie Haddad. Then the time of dreamer leftist revolutionaries came to an end.

New groups will rise with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They would dream of starting fires in the West and United States. In the first decade of the 21ts century, the world will be shaken by the "invasions of New York and Washington", prompting the American military machine to carry out disciplinary operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The world will again be shaken when ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appeared from a mosque in Mosul. He would share the same fate as that of bin Laden.

At the beginning of the century, Fusako would secretly return to Japan and fall in the hands of Japanese authorities.

Moscow wasn't mobilizing Haddad, but a thread did connect them. At a Soviet suggestion, he would secretly travel to Moscow in the early 1970s. He stayed at a palace in a forest close to the capital. Talks covered politics and security and were capped with a meeting between Haddad and head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov, who would later sit on the Kremlin throne. During the talks, Haddad asked for sophisticated weapons and ammunition that would be delivered to his group off the coast of Aden.

For half a century, the West would suffer operations carried out by people of different backgrounds. The Japanese "Mariam", the Venezuelan "Salem", Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. We mustn't forget groups that emerged here and there, dealt blows and then faded away.

In the early 1990s, it appeared as though the West had achieved a crushing victory. The Berlin wall was relegated to museums and it would be followed by an empire called the Soviet Union. The resounding victory of the western example would plant the seed of bitterness in the hearts of extremist leftist groups that had fought the West and deepen the radical Islamists' conviction of the need to go to the end in fighting it.

The past operations of bleeding out the West appear insignificant compared to what the world is enduring today by the war launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Ukrainian soil.

The differences in capabilities of the Japanese "Mariam" and her ilk and the capabilities of "Vladimir the Great" are vast. Today's battle is much greater than to be compared to the past limited attacks carried out by leftist groups.

It is more dangerous than planting a bomb, hijacking a plane or taking people hostage. It is also more dangerous than the September 11 attacks and the rise of ISIS in large areas of Iraq and Syria.

It is too soon to speculate over the outcomes of the Russian-Western battle. Waiting is the best advisor.

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