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Defiant chess champ Fischer lands in Iceland

On his first full day of freedom after nine months’ detention in Japan, Bobby Fischer denounced the United States on Friday as  “evil.”
Chess legend Bobby Fischer disembarks from a private jet in Reykjavik, Iceland, on Thursday, after accepting an offer of citizenship.
Chess legend Bobby Fischer disembarks from a private jet in Reykjavik, Iceland, on Thursday, after accepting an offer of citizenship.Thorvaldur Orn Kristmundsson / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

His hair and beard were neatly trimmed, but his opinions were still bristling.

On his first full day of freedom after nine months’ detention in Japan, Bobby Fischer said Friday he was happy to be in Iceland and denounced the United States as “evil.”

In a rambling news conference, the combative and eccentric chess champion sparred with U.S. journalists who asked about his anti-American tirades.

“They talk about the axis of evil. What about the allies of evil ... the United States, England, Japan, Australia? These are the evildoers,” Fischer said.

He thanked his “wonderful friends” in Iceland, which granted him citizenship after he was held in Japan on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Fischer declares he's still best chess player
But he also said Iceland’s enthusiasm for chess was misplaced, because the game is “utterly corrupt ... and has been for many years.”

Declaring that he was “finished” with chess, Fischer added: “I don’t play the old chess. But obviously if I did, I would be the best.”

Fischer was freed early Thursday after nine months’ detention for trying to leave Japan using an invalid U.S. passport. Japan agreed to release him after he accepted Iceland’s offer of citizenship.

His fiancee, Miyoko Watai, the head of Japan’s chess association, accompanied him to Iceland.

During his long 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.

“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, and a troubled relationship with the United States.

On Friday, he again declared himself an unrepentant enemy of the “hypocritical and corrupt” United States, which he claims organized his “judicial kidnapping.”

Wanted by U.S.
“They decided Fischer had to go to prison. He had to be destroyed ... they decided to cook up whatever charges they cooked up,” he told reporters.

Fischer, whose mother was Jewish but who has a history of anti-Semitic outbursts, accused “the Jew-controlled U.S. government” of ruining his life.

Fischer, 62, was wanted by the United States for violating sanctions imposed on the former Yugoslavia by playing an exhibition match against the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky there in 1992. He had fought deportation since he was detained by Japanese officials last July, and at one point had said he wanted to become a German citizen.

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.

Fischer is popular in Iceland, a country with one of the highest numbers of chess players per capita in the world and the site of his most famous match — a 1972 world championship victory over Spassky that was the highlight of Fischer’s career and a world-gripping symbol of Cold War rivalry.

“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.”

U.S. sends 'message of disappointment'
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 over 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.”