The Lod Airport massacre was a terrorist attack that occurred on May 30, 1972, in which three members of the Japanese Red Army recruited by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, attacked Lod Airport (now Ben-Gurion International Airport), killing 26 people – 17 Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico, a Canadian, and eight Israelis – and injuring 80 others.
At 10 p.m., Kōzō Okamoto, Tsuyoshi Okudaira, and Yasuyuki Yasuda arrived at the airport aboard an Air France flight from Rome. Dressed in business suits, the three men attracted little attention as they retrieved what appeared to be violin cases from the baggage claim area. As they entered the waiting area, they opened their violin cases and extracted Czech vz. 58 assault rifles with the butt stocks removed. They began to fire indiscriminately and tossed grenades as they changed magazines.
Yasuda was killed either by one of the other attackers or the security forces. Okudaira ran out onto the tarmac and fired at passengers disembarking from an El Al aircraft before being killed by one of his own grenades, either due to accidental premature explosion or the intent to commit suicide. Okamoto was shot by security, brought to the ground by an El Al employee, and arrested as he attempted to leave the terminal.
The terrorists had been trained in Baalbek, Lebanon. The operation was planned by Wadie Haddad (a.k.a. Abu Hani), head of PFLP External Operations, with some input from Okamoto. After the massacre, the PFLP said the Japanese Red Army gunmen had come “from thousands of miles away to join the Palestinian people in their struggle.” The group said the attack was revenge for Israel killing two terrorists who attempted to hijack a plane at Lod airport on May 8. They also referred to the attack as Operation Deir Yassin, suggesting it was revenge for what Arabs consider a massacre in the village of Deir Yassin in 1948.
The Japanese public initially reacted with disbelief to initial reports that the perpetrators of the massacre were Japanese until a Japanese embassy official sent to the hospital confirmed that Okamoto was a Japanese national. Okamoto told the diplomat that he had nothing personal against the Israeli people, but that he had to do what he did because “It was my duty as a soldier of the revolution.”
Okamoto was tried by an Israeli military tribunal and sentenced to life imprisonment in June 1972. Okamoto served only 13 years of his sentence. He was released in 1985 with more than 1,100 other prisoners in an exchange for two captured Israeli soldiers.
He settled in the Bekaa Valley. In 1997, he was arrested for passport forgery and visa violations, but was granted political refugee status in Lebanon in 2000. He is still wanted by the Japanese government.
Der Spiegel speculated that funding had been provided by some of the $5 million ransom paid by the West German government in exchange for the hostages of hijacked Lufthansa Flight 649 in February 1972.
In 2006, Puerto Rico enacted a law designating May 30 as Lod Massacre Remembrance Day.
Survivors of Puerto Rican victims sued North Korea in U.S. District Court in 2008, claiming that the North Korean government provided material support and planned the attack for the PFLP and Japanese Red Army. The plaintiffs won a $378 million judgment in 2010 but it was ignored by North Korea.
Israeli airport security was significantly upgraded following the attack with responsibilities divided between the police and Shin Bet. Today, Ben-Gurion Airport is considered one of the most secure airports in the world and there have been no successful terror attacks there since the massacre.
Sources: “26 Killed in Lod Airport Massacre,” CIE;
“Lod Airport massacre,” Wikipedia;
“1972: Japanese kill 26 at Tel Aviv airport,” BBC;
Tamara Zieve, “This Week In History: The Lod Airport Massacre,” Jerusalem Post, (May 28, 2012).