In the aftermath of the Israeli airstrike on the fledgling Syrian nuclear reactor at Deir ez-Zor on Sept. 6, 2007, North Korea's involvement in fueling conflict in the Middle East was revealed publicly to many around the world for the first time.
The Syrian reactor had been modeled upon similar reactors in North Korea, and it is suspected that Pyongyang assisted in both building and outfitting the Syrian facility. More recently, shipments of North Korean missiles destined for Iran, Libya, Syria and other outlaw regimes in the region have been intercepted or turned back by the United States. Reports have also surfaced of North Korea assisting Hezbollah in building underground bunker systems in southern Lebanon to safeguard its rocket launchers from Israeli air attacks.
Today, North Korea is finally acknowledged to be a major player in providing support and resources to the terrorist groups infesting our region, but its involvement in aiding extremist organizations that target the Jewish state began many decades ago.
Forty years ago, on May 30, 1972, an Air France jet landed at Israel's then Lod international airport. Three terrorists, members of the North Korean-backed Japanese Red Army (JRA), were among its passengers. After passing through border control, they claimed their belongings from the baggage carousel just like the rest of the new arrivals. The terrorists, who had planned the attack with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), had placed grenades and machine guns in their bags, taking advantage of the fact that only carry-on luggage was screened for weapons in those days.
Dozens of civilians were caught in the death trap, including Air France passengers, other arriving parties, airport employees and even bystanders waiting behind the glass wall for their returning family members. Twenty-four people were murdered and 72 were injured, including eight Israelis and 16 Puerto Rican Catholic pilgrims who arrived on the same Rome flight the terrorists were on. Among those killed was professor Aharon Katzir, a renowned scientist and brother of the future Israeli President Ephraim Katzir. Two of the three Japanese terrorists did not survive the attack, while one, the infamous Kozo Okamoto, was captured, placed on trial and imprisoned. He was released in a 1985 prisoner exchange for Israeli soldiers.
As Israel and families of the victims mark the 40th anniversary of the Lod Airport Massacre, one recalls not only the many, diverse lives that were lost during the attack, but also the detrimental effect governments have had in sponsoring and directing these proxy terrorist groups. Their links to the terrorist organizations have given extremists the financial support and weaponry required to execute their murderous operations against civilians.
This was the case at Lod, with Pyongyang providing training and funding for the JRA including sending advisers to the PLO's Lebanese terrorist bases and flying JRA and PFLP members to North Korea. It was this regime that provided PFLP founder George Habash a state welcome and funds shortly before the Lod attack.
The recognition that outlaw governments were responsible for the activities committed by their proxy terrorist groups was given substantive legal backing decades after the 1972 attack. In a lawsuit brought on behalf of Puerto Rican-American families by the Osen LLC group and myself, and made possible through a Congressionally legislated exception to the United States' Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, which revokes immunity from regimes designated as "State Sponsors of Terrorism" for the criminal acts they engage in, North Korea was sued for its role in the Lod Airport Massacre in a San Juan federal court.
The plaintiffs alleged that Pyongyang provided training, ideology courses, weapons, safe haven and funds to the JRA and PFLP. North Korea's goal was to attack Israel, a close ally of the United Stares, in an effort to bolster its status among the Soviet Union's client regimes and to advance its objective of spreading communist revolution. As is the case today, many outlaw regimes felt that by attacking Israel and murdering its civilians they could strike a blow against the United States.
The litigation resulted in a historic decision in June 2010. The court found that North Korea had provided material resources and support to the JRA and PFLP, which perpetrated the murderous attack, and was itself liable for the murder and maiming of the massacre victims. The court ruled that North Korea should pay $378 million (30.05 billion yen) in compensation and punitive damages to the Puerto Ricans who had been injured or who had lost loved ones in the Lod Airport attack. The victory made clear that terrorist-sponsoring regimes such as Pyongyang needed to be vigilantly fought militarily and diplomatically, but also by private citizens. For the first time, North Korea was shown to have been a decades-long supporter of Middle East terrorism and a destabilizing force in the region. Pyongyang was now required to pay for its extremist policy.
All too often, Western governments such as the United States and Israel are obstructed from combating and thwarting criminal regimes because of diplomatic and political restraints. Over the years, the Europeans, Russians and Chinese, as well as the United Nations, have repeatedly stayed the hands of those seeking to deliver a decisive blow to regimes that aid and abet international terrorism. National leaders have been tethered by treaties, constituencies, long-held foreign policies, diplomacy and political correctness, and have been unable to take decisive action. Consequently, the private sector, including its attorneys, have a continuing opportunity to step into this vacuum and provide leadership where none otherwise exists.
On the 40th anniversary of the Lod Airport Massacre, we not only remember the victims but are reminded that justice against North Korea, which along with the JRA and PFLP perpetrated the heinous 1972 crime, can and must be pursued decades later.
* * *
The author is an attorney and the director of Shurat HaDin, Israel Law Center, which represents terror victims in lawsuits against terror groups, their leaders and state backers. Their website is at (http://www.israellawcenter.org).
- « Prev
- Next »