Bobby Fischer Lands In Iceland

Media and well-wishers watch as the private jet carrying chess legend Bobby Fischer lands in Reykjavik, Iceland on Thursday March 24 2005, after he accepted an offer of citizenship from a country still grateful for its role as the site of his most famous match. AP

Bobby Fischer's latest audacious gambit has begun in a wind-lashed corner of the north Atlantic.

The volatile chess icon arrived in chilly Reykjavik late Thursday, a brand-new Icelandic citizen and unrepentant critic of the United States, which considers him as a fugitive from justice.

Hours after being freed from nine months' detention in Japan, Fischer called the United States "an illegitimate country" and said the charges against him were groundless.

Arriving at Reykjavik airport, Fischer, 62, said he was feeling "good, very good," and accepted a bouquet of flowers from fans before being whisked away in a car.

Dressed in jeans and sporting a bushy gray beard, Fischer stepped from a chartered jet to applause from about 200 supporters in a tiny, chess-loving nation still grateful for its role as the site of his most famous match - a 1972 world championship victory over Soviet player Boris Spassky that was the highlight of Fischer's career and a world-gripping symbol of Cold War rivalry.

Fischer was freed early Thursday after nine months' detention in Japan, where he had been held by authorities for trying to leave the country using an invalid U.S. passport. Japan agreed to release him after he accepted Iceland's offer of citizenship.

Even minutes after his release in Tokyo, Fischer remained defiant and at one point he unzipped his pants and acted as if he were going to urinate on a wall at the airport.

During his long trip to Iceland - by scheduled flight from Tokyo to Copenhagen and then by chartered jet from a small airport in southern Sweden - Fischer railed against the governments of Japan and the United States, calling Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi "mentally ill" and a "stooge" of President Bush.

"They are war criminals and should be hung," said Fischer, referring to the Japanese prime minister and President Bush.

"This was a kidnapping because the charges that the Japanese charged me with are totally nonsense," he told Associated Press Television News on the flight.

An American chess champion at 14 and a grand master at 15, the enigmatic Fischer has long had a reputation for volatility, increasingly strange behavior, and has a troubled relationship with the United States.

Aboard the flight from Tokyo, he called the United States "an illegitimate country ... just like the bandit state of Israel."

"That country, the United States, belongs to the red man, the American Indian. ... It's actually a shame to be a so-called American because everybody living there is ... an invader," Fischer said.

Fischer, wanted by the United States for violating sanctions imposed on the former Yugoslavia by playing an exhibition match against Spassky there in 1992, has fought deportation since he was detained by Japanese officials last July.

After a nine-month tussle between Fischer and Japanese authorities, Iceland's Parliament stepped in this week to break the standoff by giving Fischer citizenship.

"My passport was perfectly good," Fischer insisted on the SAS flight to Copenhagen.

"It's just my misfortune that this criminal idiot Koizumi ... is a close friend of Bush and he's willing to do anything Bush tells him," Fischer said.

Fischer said he felt "very appreciative" toward Iceland - but indicated he had no plans to tone down his anti-U.S. rhetoric.

"I grew up with the concept of freedom of speech. I'm too old,' he said. "It's too late for me to adjust to the new world, the new world order," he said with a chuckle.

His genius for chess has been overshadowed by increasingly bizarre behavior that among other things, caused him to lose his world champion title back in 1978. After that, he vanished from the public eye except for occasional radio interviews which often degenerated into anti-Semitic rants accusing American officials of hounding him.

He praised the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying America should be "wiped out," and described Jews as "thieving, lying bastards." His mother was Jewish.

Fisher has lived in seclusion and semi-secrecy for decades but he remains a popular figure in Iceland, a country with one of the highest numbers of chess players per capita in the world.

"Even though I don't know him personally, I have the feeling of knowing him through his biography of chess, his games," said Magnus Skulason, an Icelandic psychiatrist and chess enthusiast who came to the airport to greet Fischer. "It was hard to think of him going to jail for many years."

This nation of fewer than 300,000 people is a staunch U.S. ally, but there is a strong undercurrent of public anger at the government's support for the U.S.-led Iraq war, which was opposed by four fifths of Icelanders.

Iceland's ambassador to Japan, Thordur Oskarsson, said Washington sent a "message of disappointment" to the Icelandic government at its decision to grant Fischer a passport. The United States has an extradition treaty with Iceland, and could still try to have Fischer deported.

If convicted of violating U.S. sanctions imposed to punish then-President Slobodan Milosevic, Fischer could face 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

His Icelandic supporters vow that won't happen.

"I think he is safe now," said Thorstein Matthiasson, 39. "We have more courage than the Japanese."

  • Francie Grace

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