The Nairobi mall attack has conjured up memories of the first terrorist attack I ever remember: the Lod airport massacre.
You may never have heard of it—or of Lod airport, for that matter, which is in Tel Aviv and was later renamed Ben Gurion Airport after Israel’s founder and first prime minister. But the Lod massacre remains one of the most terrifying in the long list of terrorist attacks that have followed, and at the time it was perpetrated (1972) it was especially horrific. Masterminded by the PLO (specifically, its hard left wing the PLFP), it was also a prelude to the much-more-famous Munich Olympics massacre that gripped the world just a few short months later.
The PLO was involved in both, but the Lod massacre featured unusual perpetrators for that organization, and that was part of its shock value: leftist Japanese gunmen. This is the way it went down:
…[T]hree inconspicuous Japanese men dressed in business suits disembarked Air France Flight 132 from Rome and strolled into the baggage claim area. After retrieving what appeared to be violin cases, the men pulled out machine guns, opened fire and threw grenades indiscriminately at the crowds of people…
The gunmen killed 26 people: 17 Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico, one Canadian citizen, and eight Israelis, and 80 people were injured…Gunman Yasuyuki Yasuda was also shot dead during the attack – it is unclear whether by his own weapon or that of his partners or security forces. The lone surviving gunman, Kozo Okomato, was injured, arrested by security forces and given a life sentence. He was later freed in the 1985 prisoner swap known as the Gibril Deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
This attack had a number of characteristics that seemed new at the time, but with which we’ve become more familiar in the ensuing years. The Japanese killers represented a fusion between leftists and Islamists that became very important later on during the Iranian revolution, and which continues to this day for the many leftists who support and make excuses for Islamist terrorism. The Lod massacre was an eye-opener that led Israeli security forces to realize a new approach was needed, one that profiled not just on nationality but also on demeanor, and that expanded its sweep to include the airport in general rather than just the airplanes.
The fact that Okamoto is still alive and well and living in Lebanon is perhaps the most shocking of all. Despite its emphasis on security, that Israel allowed a perpetrator of that magnitude to be released in a prisoner swap (details here) seems suicidal.
Some insight into the mindset of someone like Okamoto is provided by a 1976 prison interview with him that was conducted by Patricia G. Steinhoff, who was an Associate Professor in Sociology at the University of Hawaii. Take it with a hefty grain of salt, because who knows whether Okamoto was being truthful or not. But here’s what he said at the time about his motives:
One of the ambiguities of Okamoto’s revolutionary conception is that the enemy is not clearly defined. Sometimes the ordinary person living in bourgeois society is regarded as part of the enemy bourgeoisie. Yet at other times, he counts the same people as potential supporters of the revolution because they are victims of such things as pollution…Because he foresees total overthrow of the existing arrangements of society, he does not feel bound in any way by the moral values of the present world…On the other hand, he is not really certain of what society will be like after the revolution has occurred. When I asked him what kind of a world he envisioned after the revolution, he smiled and said, “That is the most difficult question for revolutionaries. We really do not know what it will be like.”
Revolution and violence for its own sake as well as to fulfill the goal of feeling personally powerful. Such a person is a useful tool for those such as the PLO, who know quite well what kind of a world they envision.