Libya may be behind a spate of anti-US terrorist attacks surrounding last month's second anniversary of the United States raid on Tripoli, say US investigators. They suspect Libya hired the Japanese Red Army (JRA) to carry out the most spectacular operations, which apparently were to include bombings in New York City. The Lebanon-based Japanese radical group is also accused of engineering attacks on the first anniversary of the 1986 US raid, at Libya's behest.
``We believe [Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi] has been looking for surrogates to do his dirty work,'' says a senior US official. ``We know that his men have had contact with the JRA and we hypothesize that he hired the JRA to carry out the attacks. But we have no firm proof yet.''
Antiterrorism and law enforcement officials say the available evidence is fragmentary, but circumstances and logic are leading them to pursue the Libya-JRA connection.
Since the April 1986 US bombing of Tripoli, Colonel Qaddafi has been extremely careful in covering his tracks and has taken a low-key public position on the use of terrorism, say US officials. However, Western intelligence services have uncovered substantial evidence of contact between Libyan agents and assorted terrorist and criminal types, particularly in Lebanon.
Much of this has reportedly been aimed at hiring agents to carry out attacks against the US or against France because of its support for Chad against Libya.
Libyan agents reportedly contacted members of the Japanese Red Army based in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Many of these radicals fled there in the 1970s and were closely allied with Palestinian terrorists groups.
Though the JRA goal reportedly is an eventual revolution in Japan, the group has been involved in a series of anti-US and anti-Western attacks. Most notable are attacks in 1986 and 1987 coinciding with Western economic summits.
``Qaddafi is apparently trying to use the JRA for revenge at a level where the US knows he was behind it, but can't prove it. The JRA is probably using the jobs to promote its eventual return to Tokyo,'' says one Western specialist on terrorism in Europe.
This year's anti-US campaign was apparently intended to include bombings in New York City, as well as in Naples, Italy, outside Madrid, and perhaps in several Latin American capitals.
On April 12, a New Jersey highway patrolman arrested Yu Kikumura for possession of three homemade bombs. Also found with him was a map of New York with three pin pricks, which investigators believe could have been targets. The locations: a downtown United Service Organizations (USO) building, the United Nations headquarters, and the garment district.
US investigators were particularly struck by the USO target, given the attack two days later in Naples, Italy, against a USO cafe.
Mr. Kikumura pleaded innocent to a federal indictment on April 29. Officials say he is a longtime JRA activist, who was on international terrorist watch lists before his arrest. In May 1986, Kikumura was arrested at the Amsterdam airport with several pounds of TNT. He was sent back to Japan where he was freed on a technicality and subsequently disappeared.
On April 14, five people were killed by a car bomb explosion outside a USO club in Naples. One public claim for the attack said it was in revenge for the US bombing of Tripoli. Witnesses have identified photographs of two JRA members. One of them, Junzo Okudaira, was identified as the person who parked the car which exploded. Mr. Okudaira is linked to homemade-rocket attacks on US and British Embassies in Rome in June 1987, and to similar attacks on the US and Japanese Embassies in Jakarta, Indonesia, in June 1986, US officials say.
Similar rockets were launched at the US Embassy and other official buildings in Madrid on April 15, 1987, the first anniversary of the US raid on Tripoli. Also in April 1987, a US building was bombed in Manila. The name of the group claiming responsibility was similar to that used in last month's Naples attack. The JRA is known to operate in the Philippines.
On April 15, a bomb exploded near the US air base in Torrejon, Spain. No claim of responsibility was made, but US experts say the explosive appeared to be generally similar to that used by the JRA in the past and to that used in Naples.
Also on April 15, US bi-cultural centers in Costa Rica, Colombia, and Peru were attacked. Libyan agents are known to have offered support for radical elements in the region, in part to stir up trouble in America's backyard, says one official.
A Red Army historical sketch
The Japanese Red Army's avowed goal, since 1969, is ``simultaneous world revolution.'' Espousing solidarity with third-world ``liberation movements,'' the group has been responsible for airline hijackings, bombings of Western embassies around the globe, and an assault on Tel Aviv's Lod Airport in 1972, which killed 26 people.
Only 20 to 40 members strong, the JRA was dormant for almost a decade after a 1977 hijacking. It resurfaced in 1986 with the embassy attacks in Jakarta. Under the new name of the Anti-Imperialist International Brigade, the group claimed five other bombings, culminating in the June 1987 attacks on the British and US Embassies in Rome.
The JRA was initially tied to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical guerrilla organization responsible for numerous terrorist acts in the 1970s. JRA headquarters to this day remain in Lebanon's Bekaa valley.
The resurgence of JRA activity may be the result of a split within the group, according to a Japanese expert close to the Japanese National Police Agency. One faction is said to advocate more ``mass-oriented'' alliances with antiwar and antinuclear groups. A second harder core faction, possibly tied to extremist Shiite groups in the Middle East, is believed to have chosen a policy of violent struggle.
According to the Japanese expert, Yu Kikumura, who was arrested in New Jersey, is well known as a key figure in the support apparatus for the Japanese Red Army and for other extremist groups.