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Informal Networks, Terrorist Entrepreneurs, and an “Alliance Hub”: Reflecting on Cooperation between the Japanese Red Army and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – Special Operations Groups

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Informal Networks, Terrorist Entrepreneurs, and an “Alliance Hub”: Reflecting on Cooperation between the Japanese Red Army and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – Special Operations Groups[1]

By Zachariah Lee Parcels


This paper analyses cooperation between the Nihon Sekigun (Japanese Red Army; JRA), or Araba Sekigun (Arab Red Army), and The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s (PFLP) Special Operations Group (SOG) that was autonomous under the PFLP until being expelled in 1972. Using Moghadam’s (2017) terrorist cooperation typology as a theoretical framework, this paper examines PFLP-SOG-JRA cooperative activities between a terrorist entrepreneur, informal networks, and a terrorist organisation. PFLP-SOG-JRA activity denotes networked cooperation, or collaborations between a terrorist organisation and informal terrorist actors (i.e., informal networks or terrorist entrepreneurs; Moghadam, 2017, p. 97). This networked cooperation manifested mainly into variations of Moghadam’s (2017) second, third, and fourth variants (p. 103; see APPENDIX II). Terrorism cooperation hereafter describes “formal or informal collaborative arrangements between two or more actors who employ terrorist tactics in the pursuit of joint interests” (Moghadam, 2017, p. 8). Terrorism, albeit no definitional consensus existing, might be defined as “the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change” by a “subnational group or nonstate entity” (Hoffman, 2006, p. 40; see also Ganor, 2002). This paper posits that pre-1974 JRA is a merger of informal networks while PFLP-SOG is its patron and a “network of networks” characteristically akin to post-9/11 al Qaeda.

Emergence of Haddad’s PFLP-SOG Apt for Cooperation

In the end of the 1960s, a “New Left” emerged (Zwerman et al., 2000; Rapoport, 2004, p. 56). Inspired by the FLN (Front de Liberation National) successes in achieving Algerian self-determination from France and electrified by the Viet Cong’s resistance against the United States (US), ethnonationalist groups adopted leftist-leaning positions (Cubert, 1997, p. 111). The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is one of these entities. In December 1967, amid disillusionment after the Six Day War, Dr George Habash, an “Arab Marxist-Leninist,” established the PFLP from factions of the Movement of Arab Nationalists (ANM; Bacon, 2013, p. 84; Bell, 1971; Karmon, 2005, p.1; Abu Khalil, 1987, p. 362). Habash advocated for a “Vietnamese model,” entailing a strong political party, popular mobilisation, and self-sufficiency (Bacon, 2013, p. 84). In reality, the group espoused a flexible Marxist-oriented, “tinged red” ideology that only ran “skin deep” (Bacon, 2018a, p. 69). These various factions sought to undercut Fatah, an ethnonationalist organisation leading the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO; Cooley, 1973, p. 140). PFLP factions fragmented into the PFLP-General Command (PFLP-GC) while its leftists formed the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP; Cooley, 1973, pp. 140, 142). The weakened PFLP was renewed through the innovation, novelty, and new strategies of its operational mastermind/terrorist entrepreneur, Wadi’ Haddad, who led the PFLP’s Special Operations Group (SOG), the clandestine and most favoured branch of the PFLP (Bacon, 2018b, p. 358; Moghadam, 2017, pp. 61-2).

PFLP-SOG maintained a nondogmatic left leaning; was funded, trained, and equipped by the KGB (state sponsorship; a cooperation “facilitating factor”; Moghadam, 2017, p. 30); and composed of dozens of operatives revolving around Haddad (Bacon, 2018b, p. 358). The PFLP-SOG was the manifestation of Haddad’s answer to Habash’s predicaments with the PFLP; the organisation could not adequately establish a presence within or effectively conduct cross-border attacks on Israel. Haddad’s proposal was to strike Israeli interests through “spectacular operations” (Habash & Soueid, 1998, pp. 93-4; Bacon, 2018a, p. 64) to garner international attention for the Palestinian cause, denoting altering process goals, or “attempts by the group to overcome the weaknesses and vulnerabilities that jeopardize its existence” (Moghadam, 2017, p. 21). The PFLP-SOG’s spectacular hijackings captured radical leftist movements, especially those preoccupied by the Palestinian cause and other “Third World national liberation” campaigns like Shigenobu Fusako’s informal network (Bacon, 2018a, p. 64), framing the PFLP-SOG’s ideological affinity with these organisations (Moghadam, 2017, p. 106). This also aligns with how the PFLP defined its predominant adversary, Israel, as an “imperialist state” benefiting from “world imperialism” at Palestinians’ expense (Bacon, 2018a, pp. 68-9). International operations thus began to define the PFLP (Bacon, 2018, p. 75). Haddad perceived these international allies as means of garnering further international attention while preserving the PFLP-SOG’s clandestine operations by subverting security services (Bacon, 2018b, p. 359). The PFLP’s cell-based hierarchy decentralised decision making, providing the ability to operate openly in safe havens or clandestinely in hostile surroundings (Cubert, 1997, p. 117). The PFLP-SOG thus operated with complete autonomy in Jordan and then Lebanon’s Bekaa valley post-1970. Haddad only briefed Habash about impending attacks and expenditures, exacerbating friction (Bacon, 2018a, p. 76; Cubert, 1997, p. 128). In 1970, Habash’s disinterest in alliances and PFLP-SOG’s process goals created an internal rift; yet Haddad pursued these operations regardless to garner needed international partners’ tacit and explicit knowledge and resources not in the PFLP (Bacon, 2018a). Haddad also believed these allies could also supplement its operational capability, as the PFLP-SOG’s high-profile hijackings centred security service attention on Arab operatives (Bacon, 2018a, pp. 73, 101). This also befits Haddad’s intentions of infusing PFLP-SOG actions with an international aura (Bacon, 2018a, p. 101). This denotes Palestinian terrorists’ “networking” dimension of international terrorism, whereby they “welcomed terrorists from around the world” (Hoffman, 2006, pp. 76-7).

Though saving the PFLP operationally, functioning autonomously, and privileging action over the PFLP’s ideologies, Haddad never sought leadership (Bacon, 2018b, p. 358). Nevertheless, PFLP-SOG autonomy and its process goals led to its being expelled in 1972 (Bacon, 2018a, pp. 70-1). Wadi transformed the PFLP into a sum of “local, independent, and horizontal networks” or “network of networks” akin to Hamas while acting as a “alliance hub” for organisation like Nihon Sekigun (Japanese Red Army; JRA; Moghadam, 2017, pp. 56-7; Bacon, 2018a, p. 72).

JRA’s Emergence and Strategic Alliance with the PFLP-SOG

In 1958, Zengakuren (1948-present), a student organisation infamous for its Marxist orientations, marches, and protests, and formerly associated with the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), separated themselves from the JCP to form the Communist League (Kyo-sanshugisha Do-mei; or Bund). The Bund mobilised against the Vietnam War and the US-Japan security treaty (Steinhoff, 2016, p. 167; Gallagher, 2002). Bund member Shiomi Takaya’s “transitional world” theory that stressed the need for a Red Army was not accepted by the movement. Takaya’s radical milieu, the Red Army Faction (Sekigun), in the “New Left” movement involved in the student-led Antiwar protests, wanted more aggressive anti-police action, leading to its 1969 expulsion. As police efforts reached “draconian levels” (Steinhoff, 2016, p. 173), the Sekigun – bent on ousting the monarch and leading a world revolution – decentralised and went into exile, befitting Karmon’s (2005) explanation for why terrorist groups seek alliances (p. 307; Moghadam, 2017, pp. 21-2; Steinhoff, 2016, p. 174; Steinhoff, 1989, p. 729; Horowitz & Potter, 2014, p. 206). Sekigun splintered into various radical networks/informal networks, as they lacked formal organisational structure, maintained flexible membership, were decentralised, and not operationally or logistically subordinated to a Japanese hierarchy (see Malthaner & Waldman, 2004, p. 988; Moghadam, 2017, p. 57; see APPENDIX I).

Sekigun Central committee member, Shigenobu Fusako, attempted to materialise Sekigun’s goal to establish international bases by going to the PFLP. Prior to flying to Beirut, Fusako met with Okudaira Tsuyoshi, leader of another informal network, the Kyoto Partisans, that maintained low-end cooperation with the Bund and Sekigun. Tsuyoshi merged the Kyoto Partisans with the Sekigun operatives under Fusako, spontaneously forming a de facto new informal terrorist network under their shared leadership, the Middle Eastern-based Japanese Red Army (JRA; Steinhoff, 2016, p. 175; Moghadam, 2017, pp. 107-8). Without informing the PFLP, they arrived in Beirut in February 1971 and individually volunteered, exemplifying their flexible membership (Steinhoff, 2016, p. 176). At first, Fusako travelled around Lebanon filming JRA/PFLP insurgents, producing a film called, Red Army–PFLP Declaration of World War (1971; Steinhoff, 2016, p. 176; Horowitz & Potter, 2014, p. 206). JRA members within the PFLP also translated PFLP documents into Japanese. These propaganda efforts, disseminated around Japanese campuses, stressed how Sekigun established a base abroad and ideologically cooperating with the PFLP (Moghadam, 2017, p. 23; Steinhoff, 2016, p. 176). These efforts reveal the JRA’s unwavering fealty to Sekigun, though operating as a de facto, separate informal network, limiting JRA-PFLP-SOG relations to a strong Strategic Alliance but short of a merger.

Okudaira Tsuyoshi volunteered to the “Outside Work” section or the PLFP-SOG, marking JRA’s logistical and operational cooperation with their new patron (Bacon, 2018a, p. 87). Fusako, Okudaira, and Haddad began planning a terrorist attack to be conducted by JRA operatives (Steinhoff, 2018). Okudaira and Shigenobu recruited for the mission, chiefly from the Kyoto Partisans. This operational cooperation, “joint planning an/execution of terrorist attacks” (Moghadam, 2017, p. 36), would galvanise the network’s “shared operational experience” and “united political and ideological front” (Moghadam, 2017, p. 36). Tacit (abstract) and explicit (physical) knowledge exchanges from KBG sponsorship and the Lebanese safe haven facilitated PFLP-SOG-JRA logistical cooperation, namely clandestine military training, for the select JRA/Kyoto recruits (Moghadam, 2017, pp. 29-34; Bacon, 2018a, p. 82; Jackson et al., 2005). They then landed at Israel’s Lod Airport (Ben Gurion) on 30 May 1972. Using automatic rifles and hand grenades, they killed 28 while wounding 76 others (Box & McCormack, 2003, p. 96). The PFLP took responsibility; however, the terrorists’ Japanese ethnicity pressured the PFLP to have Shigenobu to announce the involvement of the Sekigun (Steinhoff, 2016, pp. 176-7). This attack exemplifies a few points. First, this highlights the “multiple affiliations” of JRA terrorists (Moghadam, 2017, p. 60). Second, as networks are between at least two interconnected nodes, this network involved two interconnected groups, the merged JRA/Kyoto informal network, and a terrorist organisation, the PLFP-SOG, denoting Moghadam’s fourth variant (Moghadam, 2017, p. 55, 103). Third, cooperation boosted JRA/PLFP-SOG’s longevity (via non-Arab operatives), violence level, and lethality, and brought about innovation (Moghadam, 2017, p. 9; Asal & Rethemeyer, 2008; Horowitz & Potter, 2014, p. 204). Lastly, akin to a merger’s weaker party, the PFLP manifested a highly desirable “brand” that JRA intended to use: Kyoto/JRA member, Kozo Okamoto, who survived the operation, explained cooperating with the PFLP-SOG “as means of propelling ourselves on the world stage” (Moghadam, 2017, p. 23, 107-8).

The PFLP-SOG as a “Network of Networks” or “Alliance Hub” & JRA post-1974 Independence

The PFLP-SOG was a “network of networks” or “alliance hub,” the core group of an “alliance cluster” (Bacon, 2018b, p. 346). This is exemplified by two operations in 1974. The independent terrorist entrepreneur, Ilich Ramierz Sanchez (Carlos “the Jackal”), led JRA operatives in the 1974 takeover of the French embassy in The Hague and the bombing of a popular discotheque in Paris. The PFLP-SOG assisted with target selection, weapons, and surveillance (Bacon, 2013, p. 91; Hoffman, 2006, p. 260). This denotes a synthesis of Moghadam’s (2017) second and fourth variant, as it involved cooperation between a terrorist entrepreneur (“the Jackal”) and a terrorist group (PFLP-SOG) but also an informal network (JRA). This “alliance cluster” proved effective in post-1974 hostage-taking attacks to free fellow operatives in the hub or Sekigun leaders in Japan, denoting “free the guerrilla guerrillas” (Zwerman et al., 2000; Steinhoff, 2016, p. 178). These operations marked a watershed moment for the PFLP-SOG-led “alliance hub,” as the JRA emerged independent in 1974, frustrated with PFLP-SOG managerial style, and began operating independently (with PFLP-SOG aid), transitioning to “organisation cooperation” (Bacon, 2013, p. 168; Steinhoff, 2016, p. 177). The PFLP-SOG dissolved in 1978 with Haddad’s death while the JRA withdrew, denoting their interdependence, to re-emerge later as an “alliance hub” in the 1980s (Bacon, 2013, pp. 176-7).



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[2] This is from Steinhoff (1989) on page 725.

[3] This is from Moghadam (2017) on page 120.

About the Author(s)

A born Canadian, Zachariah Lee Parcels currently lives in Zürich, Switzerland. Zachariah completed graduate and undergraduate studies from Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel, with distinction and specialised in Counterterrorism and Homeland Security. Currently, he is a Research Assistant at Reichman University for an upcoming Routledge publication on proxy warfare. He has several research and publication experiences. After serving as a teaching assistant for a terrorism innovation course, he published an article on terrorist in-novation in terrorist financing. He also co-authored a chapter on areas of limited statehood and the rule of law and co-authored several publications with the International Team for the Study of Security (ITSS) Verona.