You can run and hide but you can’t change the way you smoke. So Japan’s most wanted woman discovered.
And Fusako Shigenobu, the notorious leader of the extreme leftist Japanese Red Army did have an iconoclastic smoking style.
She puffed on her cigarette as if it were a pipe and exhaled perfect smoke rings.
On Wednesday, in a rural town in western Japan though, Shigenobu found that after 30 years on the run, she couldn’t blow smoke rings around the Japanese police anymore.
Her smoking style was a vital clue that convinced the police they had found their woman, who until then was believed to be living in Lebanon, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper said today.
Dubbed the “empress” for her long leadership of one of the world’s most notorious extremist groups, the 55-year-old Shigenobu had dodged police across three continents since allegedly masterminding a 1974 attack on the French embassy in the The Hague. In a daring mission, her Red Army kidnapped the French ambassador who was later freed in exchange for the release of an imprisoned comrade.
A New Look
That was a long time ago, when Shigenobu’s stunning beauty was the subject of headlines and lore. Not only has age made some alterations, she has often disguised herself as a man, as she did when she checked into a hotel in the little Japanese town where she was captured.
“Shigenobu must have believed that since her appearance had changed so much, we wouldn’t notice,” said an officer quoted in Sankei Shimbun. “It was that little something that got her.”
Police, however, did not comment publicly on how they found Shigenobu. Japan’s Kyodo news agency said authorities received a tip in July that she was in Japan.
In late October, investigators spotted a woman matching her description at a hideout of leftist radicals, Kyodo said.
Arrest Brings Relief
On Wednesday, as Shigenobu stepped out of a train taking her back to Tokyo, she appeared unrepentant. She raised her handcuffed wrists high in the air and made a thumbs-up sign.
“I’ll fight on!” she shouted at reporters.
Japanese media reported Shigenobu denied involvement in the embassy hostage taking.
Police declined to comment, saying the investigation was continuing.
But for Japanese officials, her arrest was a relief. “It’s great that a person who was involved in all sorts of terrorist acts from the late ’60s has been arrested,” Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency.
The top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, told a news conference: “I hope her arrest will become a stepping stone leading to the capture of other members still on the run.”
Deadly and Spectacular Attacks
The Japanese Red Army was born out of the 1960s anti-Vietnam War movement and advocated the destruction of capitalism. Its members fought at home against the presence of U.S. forces in Japan and then in the early 1970s took their struggle overseas.
Shigenobu, originally a member of the Red Army Faction group, traveled to Lebanon in 1971 and founded the Japanese Red Army, which linked up with Palestinian extremists to become an implacable foe of Israel.
The Japanese Red Army became known in the 1970s for a series of deadly and spectacular attacks, ranging from plane hijackings to hostage taking.
Among those was the 1972 attack on Israel’s Lod airport in which 26 people, including two Red Army members, were killed in a hail of machine-gun fire and grenade blasts.
Last May, Tokyo police arrested four Red Army members who allegedly took part in various hijackings, embassy seizures and other crimes after they were deported from Lebanon.
But Lebanon granted political asylum to another member, Kozo Okamoto, for his role in operations against Israel.
Okamoto, who was arrested for the attack on Lod airport and imprisoned in Israel, had been freed in 1985 in an exchange of prisoners between Israeli and Palestinian forces.
Post Cold War Problems
But with the end of the Cold War and moves for peace accelerating in the Middle East, the group’s presence became troublesome for many Arab nations and it was dealt a blow after it reportedly lost its base in Lebanon in 1997.
Shigenobu’s arrest may spell the end of the weakened organization, Japanese media said.
The Japanese Red Army had its roots in another extreme leftist group, the Red Army Faction.
Members of that group were allegedly responsible for hijacking a Japan Airlines (JAL) plane on a domestic flight and forcing it to fly to Pyongyang, North Korea, in March 1970 in what was Japan’s first hijacking.
The suspects were granted political asylum in North Korea and their extradition to Japan has been one of the issues hindering normalization of ties between Tokyo and Pyongyang.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.