Japanese armed left re-emerges?

US military officials and Japanese police have confirmed an explosion near the Camp Zama base outside Tokyo, adding no one was hurt and there was no damage from the blast. A similar incident was reported near Camp Zama in 2002, when police found a metal projectile after two blasts were heard in the area. (Bloomberg, Feb. 13) Global Security informs us that Camp Zama is home to the US Army Japan/9th Theater Army Area Command. In addition to the usual speculation about al-Qaeda, reports are raising the possibility of Japanese left-wing radicals.

Few have drawn the connection, but its interesting that this comes just as a German court has paroled Brigitte Mohnhaupt, one-time militant with the Red Army Faction (RAF). Mohnhaupt was arrested in 1982 and convicted of involvement in nine murders of West German government and industrial figures. (Boston Globe, Feb. 13) If there is anything to the theory about armed leftists in the Camp Zama attack, the most likely suspect is the RAF’s sibling organization, the Japanese Red Army (JRA). In contrast to the RAF, which has officially disbanded (The Independent, April 21, 1998), the JRA still ostensibly exists, although its hey-day has long passed. A Feb. 11 retrospective in the Japan Times on Japan’s “’70s legacy” recalled:

The death knell for the student movement was sounded on Feb. 28, 1972, when police, after a 10-day standoff, stormed the mountain retreat where members of the Japanese Red Army had holed up with a hostage. The Red Army members had gone to the Asama Sanso retreat in Nagano Prefecture after sentencing some of their comrades in a kangaroo court and murdering them. Japanese television was at the scene, televising the standoff and the dramatic freeing of the hostage in a kind of prolonged news coverage never before seen in this country. With the Asama Sanso Incident, as it became known, the radical student movement that matured in the ’60s (with the wide support of the general public) collapsed.

As quaintly anachronistic as such groups seem, the armed left and armed Islamist theories are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The JRA could have connections in the Middle East: the Federation of American Scientists Intelligence Resource Program says the group has a support group in “Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon.” In April 2002, when Italy’s Red Brigades re-emerged with the slaying of a government advisor, we noted that the group’s recent communique had praised the 9-11 attacks and called for “the forging of alliances between anti-imperialist and revolutionary forces in the regions of Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.” We’ve also noted the recent re-emergence of the armed left in Greece.

See our last post on Japan