An Israeli human rights organization is filing a lawsuit against North Korea over a 1972 terrorist attack at Ben-Gurion International Airport that left more than 20 people dead and over 50 wounded, Haaretz has learned.
The attack, known as the Lod Airport massacre, was carried out by three members of the Japanese Red Army on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The victims included 16 Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico, and Israeli professor and biophysicist Aharon Katzir.
While two of the terrorists were killed over the course of the attack - one of them committing suicide - the third, Kozo Okamoto, was captured and sentenced to life in prison.
Okamoto was subsequently released from Israeli prison 13 years later, in 1985, as part of the Jibril prisoner exchange deal - one of the 1,150 security prisoners released in exchange for three Israelis captured during the first Lebanon war.
The lawsuit against North Korea stems from claims it sponsored the PFLP and the Japanese Red Army, providing material support to both organizations and assistance in planning the attack. The three terrorists arrived on an Air France flight from Paris and drew automatic guns and hand grenades, firing randomly at anybody in sight once their luggage came through the baggage claim.
"This attack was for Israelis what the September 11th attacks were for Americans," Ze'ev Sarig, the former manager of Lod Airport, explained in his testimony before a judge in Puerto Rico. "The attack changed how we viewed security at the airport and in Israeli civil aviation."
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the founder of Shurat HaDin - Israel Law Center, filed the $30 million lawsuit at a U.S. federal court in Puerto Rico on behalf of 12 of the victims' families.
Preliminary hearings to examine evidence began in Puerto Rico on December 2, 2009. Israeli experts - including Sarig and various experts on terrorism - were flown in to testify at the hearings. The claims were then translated and transferred to North Korean authorities which, according to Darshan-Leitner, have yet to respond to the charges.
"We are currently waiting for the ruling of the federal judge in Puerto Rico," she said, adding that it might be possible to seize North Korean funds held at U.S. banks if the verdict comes out in the claimants' favor.
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