Japanese Cult Aum Shinrikyo/Shoko Asahara archive.

Asahara was sentenced after a lengthy prosecution during which he regularly delivered rambling and incoherent monologues in English and Japanese

From MK Ultra to Aum Shinrikyo: 5 Times Psychedelics and Spirituality Were Used as Weapons

Aum Shinrikyo and the Sarin Gas Subway Attack

In 1995, Japan fell prey to one of the most deadly domestic terror attacks in the history of the developed world. The powerful chemical weapon sarin was released on the Tokyo subway system, killing thirteen people and injuring a further 6,000. The victims continue to suffer from migraines and blindness—years after the incident.

The responsible party was Aum Shinrikyo (“Supreme Truth”), a cult that had gained popularity in Japan by combining a hodge-podge of Eastern esoteric yoga with apocalyptic Christianity, all tied together by the charismatic influence of cult leader Shoko Asahara. Their beliefs captivated young Japanese spiritual seekers, who were disillusioned with the money-obsessed materialism of Japanese society. By undertaking intense yoga regimens, cult members believed that they could achieve spiritual enlightenment—however, violent acts by the group, as well as their own internal structure, began to provoke controversy and criticism; Aum hoped that the deadly sarin gas attack would go unexplained and would actually draw the Japanese authorities away from greater investigation into Aum’s operations. This crazy plan went about as well as one would expect, and leader Asahara was sentenced to death by hanging in 2004.

Cult members hanged for Tokyo subway attack, other crimes

TOKYO (AP) – Thirteen members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult were hanged this month for crimes committed in the 1990s, culminating in sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people and sickened thousands. Some details about the condemned cult members:

EXECUTED THURSDAY FOR THE SUBWAY ATTACK:

– MASATO YOKOYAMA, 55, carried sarin in a plastic bag into the Marunouchi subway line, punctured the bag and fled. His actions seriously injured about 200 people among the 6,000 hurt by the five simultaneous attacks carried out during the morning rush hour on March 20, 1995. Yokoyama hardly spoke throughout the trial. He had studied applied physics at Tokai University and worked at an electronics company before leaving in 1989 to join the cult, where he was ordered to produce machine guns.

FILE - This combination of undated file photos shows 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult hanged in July 2018 for crimes committed in the 1990s, culminating in sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people and sickened thousands. They are, from top left, leader Shoko Asahara, Tomomasa Nakagawa, Yoshihiro Inoue, Tomomitsu Niimi, Seiichi Endo, Masami Tsuchiya and Kiyohide Hayakawa. From left at bottom are Masato Yokoyama, Yasuo Hayashi, Toru Toyoda, Kenichi Hirose, Kazuaki Okasaki and Satoru Hashimoto. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE – This combination of undated file photos shows 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult hanged in July 2018 for crimes committed in the 1990s, culminating in sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people and sickened thousands. They are, from top left, leader Shoko Asahara, Tomomasa Nakagawa, Yoshihiro Inoue, Tomomitsu Niimi, Seiichi Endo, Masami Tsuchiya and Kiyohide Hayakawa. From left at bottom are Masato Yokoyama, Yasuo Hayashi, Toru Toyoda, Kenichi Hirose, Kazuaki Okasaki and Satoru Hashimoto. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

– YASUO HAYASHI, 60, joined the cult in 1988 after reading Shoko Asahara’s book and became the cult leader’s bodyguard. He had traveled around the world for three years after graduating from college. Hayashi stabbed three bags of sarin on the Hibiya subway line before fleeing. After more than a year at large, he was arrested on the southern resort island of Ishigaki in 1996. Leaving behind the cult teachings, Hayashi called Asahara a wrong mentor, apologized for his crime and said he deserved the infamous nickname “killing machine.”

– TORU TOYODA, 50, released sarin on the Hibiya subway line. After earning a master’s degree in physics at the prestigious University of Tokyo, Toyoda joined the cult in 1992 and engaged in weapons research and development. Toyoda pleaded guilty in his trial, and said he felt he did not deserve to have lived.

– KENICHI HIROSE: 54, had earned a bachelor’s degree in applied physics at Waseda University and studied superconductivity at graduate school. He declined a job offer at a company to join the cult instead. His former supervisor at the university said the physics field globally would have made greater progress if Hirose had used his talent in the right way. He released sarin on the Marunouchi subway line and was convicted for the attack and for illegal weapons production.

EXECUTED THURSDAY FOR OTHER CRIMES:

– KAZUAKI OKASAKI, 57, graduated from an industrial high school and worked at construction sites before donating all his savings to the cult and moving to its commune in 1986. Okasaki fled the group after the 1989 killing of anti-cult lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their baby boy at their Yokohama home, and he surrendered in 1995. He was the first cultist to be sentenced to death in 1998 for the murders of the lawyer’s family and other cult crimes.

– SATORU HASHIMOTO, 51, served in an assault unit of the cult using his experience in karate. Hashimoto was one of six cultists who strangled the lawyer’s family to death and he also drove a vehicle to spray sarin in Matsumoto in 1994, an attack that killed eight people and preceded the subway attack.

EXECUTED ON JULY 6:

– SHOKO ASAHARA: 63, founded Aum Shinrikyo by mixing religions and social disillusionment to attract followers, many of them top university graduates working in science, medicine or other elite fields. They ran sham computer and health-food businesses and collected donations to amass wealth to buy land and equipment. Sarin was only one of the chemical and biological weapons they were able to manufacture, adding to an arsenal the cult built in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown. The Tokyo subway attack was intended to disrupt an investigation into the group. Asahara was convicted in the subway attack; the 1994 sarin attack in Matsumoto; the 1989 killing of the anti-Aum lawyer and his family, and six other murder cases.

– TOMOMASA NAKAGAWA: 55, had been a doctor and helped the cult produce sarin and VX nerve agents. He was convicted in 11 cult crimes in which 25 people were killed. Nakagawa reportedly made an early identification of VX as the method used to assassinate the North Korean leader’s half brother in 2017.

-YOSHIHIRO INOUE: 48, was known as the cult’s “genius of training” and headed its intelligence unit. He rose quickly in the cult to become Asahara’s right-hand man and was the coordinator of the subway attacks.

– TOMOMITSU NIIMI, 54, led a unit of the cult responsible for capturing its members who tried to escape. He also was a getaway driver helping one of the cultists flee after gassing the subway.

– SEIICHI ENDO: 58, graduated from a veterinary school and studied virus and genetic engineering at Kyoto University graduate school. Asahara ordered him to produce sarin, but Endo said in court he did so without knowing its purpose. Endo was convicted in both sarin attacks and an attempted VX attack.

– MASAMI TSUCHIYA: 53, was a chemist who headed the cult’s sarin development and production and was convicted for producing sarin, VX and other chemical weapons.

– KIYOHIDE HAYAKAWA: 68, was the cult’s “construction minister,” responsible for land acquisition and expansion. He was convicted in the murders of the lawyer’s family.

FILE - In this March 20, 1995, file photo, subway passengers affected by sarin nerve gas are treated near Tsukiji subway station, right, in Tokyo. The last six members of Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including the sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. (Kyodo News via AP, File)/Kyodo News via AP)

FILE – In this March 20, 1995, file photo, subway passengers affected by sarin nerve gas are treated near Tsukiji subway station, right, in Tokyo. The last six members of Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including the sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. (Kyodo News via AP, File)/Kyodo News via AP)

FILE - This undated file photo shows former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Yasuo Hayashi. The last six members, including Hayashi, of the Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Hayashi, 60, stabbed three bags of sarin on the Hibiya subway line before fleeing. (AP Photo/Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE – This undated file photo shows former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Yasuo Hayashi. The last six members, including Hayashi, of the Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Hayashi, 60, stabbed three bags of sarin on the Hibiya subway line before fleeing. (AP Photo/Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE - This undated file photo shows former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Masato Yokoyama. The last six members, including Yokoyama, of the Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Yokoyama, 55, carried sarin gas in a plastic bag into the Marunouchi subway line, punctured the bag and fled. His actions seriously injured about 200 people among the 6,000 hurt by five simultaneous attacks. (AP Photo/Kyodo News via AP)

FILE – This undated file photo shows former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Masato Yokoyama. The last six members, including Yokoyama, of the Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Yokoyama, 55, carried sarin gas in a plastic bag into the Marunouchi subway line, punctured the bag and fled. His actions seriously injured about 200 people among the 6,000 hurt by five simultaneous attacks. (AP Photo/Kyodo News via AP)

FILE - This undated file photo shows former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Toru Toyoda. The last six members, including Toyoda, of the Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Toyoda, 50, released sarin on the Hibiya subway line. (AP Photo/Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE – This undated file photo shows former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Toru Toyoda. The last six members, including Toyoda, of the Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Toyoda, 50, released sarin on the Hibiya subway line. (AP Photo/Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE - This undated file photo shows former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Kenichi Hirose. The last six members, including Hirose, of the Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Hirose, 54, released sarin on the Marunouchi subway line and was convicted for the attack and for illegal weapons production. (AP Photo/Kyodo News via AP)

FILE – This undated file photo shows former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Kenichi Hirose. The last six members, including Hirose, of the Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Hirose, 54, released sarin on the Marunouchi subway line and was convicted for the attack and for illegal weapons production. (AP Photo/Kyodo News via AP)

FILE - This undated file photo shows former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Kazuaki Okasaki. The last six members, including Okasaki, of the Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Okasaki, 57, was the first cultist to be sentenced to death in 1998 for the murders of the lawyer's family and other cult crimes.(AP Photo/Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE – This undated file photo shows former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Kazuaki Okasaki. The last six members, including Okasaki, of the Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Okasaki, 57, was the first cultist to be sentenced to death in 1998 for the murders of the lawyer’s family and other cult crimes.(AP Photo/Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE - In this July 1995, file photo, former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Satoru Hashimoto, left, is driven to Tsukiji police station in Tokyo after being arrested. The last six members, including Hashimoto, of the Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Hashimoto, 51, was one of six cultists who strangled the lawyer's family to death and drove a vehicle to spray sarin in the 1994 attack. (AP Photo/Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE – In this July 1995, file photo, former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Satoru Hashimoto, left, is driven to Tsukiji police station in Tokyo after being arrested. The last six members, including Hashimoto, of the Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Hashimoto, 51, was one of six cultists who strangled the lawyer’s family to death and drove a vehicle to spray sarin in the 1994 attack. (AP Photo/Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE - This October 1990, file photo, shows Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo leader Shoko Asahara in Fujinomiya, central Japan. The last six members of the cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including the sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. The first seven, including Asahara, were hanged about three weeks ago. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE – This October 1990, file photo, shows Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo leader Shoko Asahara in Fujinomiya, central Japan. The last six members of the cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including the sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. The first seven, including Asahara, were hanged about three weeks ago. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE - In this March 20, 1995, file photo, subway passengers affected by sarin nerve gas are treated near Tsukiji subway station in Tokyo. The last six members of Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including the sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE – In this March 20, 1995, file photo, subway passengers affected by sarin nerve gas are treated near Tsukiji subway station in Tokyo. The last six members of Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including the sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE - In this March 20, 1995, file photo, subway passengers affected by sarin gas planted in the central Tokyo subways are carried into St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo. The last six members of a Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Thirteen members of the group had received death sentences. (AP Photo/Chiaki Tsukumo, File)

FILE – In this March 20, 1995, file photo, subway passengers affected by sarin gas planted in the central Tokyo subways are carried into St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo. The last six members of a Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday, July 26, 2018, for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people. Thirteen members of the group had received death sentences. (AP Photo/Chiaki Tsukumo, File)

Japan executes sarin attack cult members: media

The Aum Shinrikyo cult carried out a deadly 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, killing 13 people

The Aum Shinrikyo cult carried out a deadly 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, killing 13 people

Several members of a cult that carried out a deadly 1995 sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway were executed on Thursday, Japanese media said, weeks after the group’s leader was hanged.

Public broadcaster NHK said at least two members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult had been executed on Thursday, while other media did not specify a number.

There was no immediate official confirmation.

Thursday’s executions come after authorities hanged “guru” Shoko Asahara and six of his one-time followers earlier this month, after years on death row.

Those executions left six remaining Aum members on death row.

Japan is one of the few developed nations to retain the death penalty, and public support for it remains high despite international criticism.

The Aum’s 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway during rush hour killed 13 people and injured thousands more.

It plunged the massive capital into chaos, and prompted a crackdown on the cult’s headquarters in the foothills of Mount Fuji, where authorities discovered a plant capable of producing enough sarin to kill millions.

Aum members have been convicted of an additional sarin attack in the town of Matsumoto the year before the Tokyo attack, as well as the murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family.

Despite the crackdown on the Aum, it was never formally banned.

It officially disowned Asahara in 2000 and renamed itself Aleph, but experts say the former guru retained a strong influence before his execution.

Japan executes last sarin attack cult members on death row

The Aum Shinrikyo cult carried out a deadly 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, killing 13 people

The Aum Shinrikyo cult carried out a deadly 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, killing 13 people

Japan on Thursday executed the last members of the cult sentenced to death for their role in the fatal 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, weeks after the group’s leader was hanged.

The execution of the six Aum Shinrikyo members, years after they were put on death row, draws a line under the horrific attack which shocked the world and prompted national soul-searching over the group and its crimes.

“Today the state executed six people,” Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said at a press conference.

“I ordered the executions after extremely careful consideration.”

The 1995 Aum cult Tokyo gas attack

The 1995 Aum cult Tokyo gas attack

In all, 13 Aum members, including the cult’s near-blind leader Shoko Asahara, were on death row for crimes including the 1995 sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway.

Local media said authorities wanted the death sentences against the Aum members to be carried out before Japan’s emperor abdicates next year, when a new imperial era will begin.

Since the Aum’s crimes were committed during the Heisei era of the current emperor, authorities wanted the executions complete before the new era begins, local media reported.

Some of the Aum’s victims said it would be hard to simply move on.

“With the 13 members executed, perhaps the case is closed from the point of view of criminal justice,” Shizue Takahashi, whose husband was killed in the subway attack, told reporters.

“(But) the damage done to the victims continues even after the executions. I find it very hard.”

The Aum gained international infamy with the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway during rush hour, which killed 13 people and injured thousands more.

Members of the group released the chemical in liquid form at five points throughout the subway network, and soon commuters began struggling to breathe, staggering from trains with their eyes watering.

Others keeled over, foaming at the mouth, with blood streaming from their noses.

The attack plunged the capital into chaos, and prompted a crackdown on the cult’s headquarters in the foothills of Mount Fuji, where authorities discovered a plant capable of producing enough sarin to kill millions.

Aum members, including those executed this month, were also convicted of crimes including an additional sarin attack in the town of Matsumoto the year before the Tokyo attack, and the murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family. Many of the group’s members remain in prison.

– ‘Heinous crimes’ –

The 13 cult members spent years on death row as prosecutors investigated their crimes, and some activists opposed the executions, fearing the members would be elevated to the status of martyrs.

But victims of the group’s attacks welcomed the execution of Asahara and six other Aum members earlier this month.

One man who was injured in the subway sarin attack told AFP he felt “the world had become slightly brighter”.

Japan is one of the few developed nations to retain the death penalty, and public support for it remains high despite international criticism, including from rights group Amnesty International.

“The taking of a life in retribution is never the answer,” the group’s East Asia researcher Hiroka Shoji said in a statement Thursday.

But Kamikawa said it was “not appropriate under the current circumstances to abolish the death penalty.”

“I think we can’t avoid capital punishment for those who have committed extremely heinous crimes,” she said.

Commuters were stricken when the Aum sect released sarin at five points through the subway network

Commuters were stricken when the Aum sect released sarin at five points through the subway network

Asahara developed his cult in the 1980s, and at one point the wild-haired “guru” had at least 10,000 followers, including the doctors and engineers who produced the group’s chemical agents.

Despite the crackdown on the Aum, it was never formally banned.

It officially disowned Asahara in 2000 and renamed itself Aleph, but experts say the former guru retained a strong influence before his execution.

Asahara’s execution set off a battle among his surviving family members for his remains, with his wife and several children who are in successor cults to the Aum seeking to obtain them.

He was cremated days after his execution, and his youngest daughter, who has broken with the Aum’s successor cults, said she would receive his ashes, which will reportedly be scattered at sea to avoid creating a pilgrimage site for Asahara’s followers.

Japan hangs last six members of doomsday cult behind deadly sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people in 1995

  • All six members of the doomsday cult who remained on death row were killed
  • Four executed for role in sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people
  • The cult, named Aum Shinrikyo, envisioned overthrowing the government
  • It amassed an arsenal of weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown
  • Latest hangings come after first seven members, including cult leader Shoko Asahara, were hanged about three weeks ago 

The last six members of a Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed today for a series of crimes including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people.

The subway attacks, the group’s most notorious crime which took place in 1995, sickened 6,000 people and sowed panic during the morning commute.

Cult members used umbrellas to puncture plastic bags, releasing sarin, a deadly nerve agent, inside subway cars just as the trains approached the Kasumigaseki station, Japan’s main government district. Commuters poured out of stations, and the streets were soon filled with troops in Hazmat suits and people being treated outside.

Thirteen members of the group had received death sentences for the 1995 attack. The first seven, including cult leader Shoko Asahara, were hanged about three weeks ago.

A woman walks past TV news reporting executions of six members of doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, in Tokyo on Thursday, after they were executed. Top left clockwise: Kazuaki Okasaki, Masato Yokoyama, Satoru Hashimoto, Kenichi Hirose, Toru Toyoda and Yasuo Hayashi

A woman walks past TV news reporting executions of six members of doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, in Tokyo on Thursday, after they were executed. Top left clockwise: Kazuaki Okasaki, Masato Yokoyama, Satoru Hashimoto, Kenichi Hirose, Toru Toyoda and Yasuo Hayashi

Aum cult member shows cult leader Shoko Asahara (center, back) with his wife Tomoko (left, front) and daughter Archery (centre, front) along with inner group of disciples at an unknown location (file photo)

Aum cult member shows cult leader Shoko Asahara (center, back) with his wife Tomoko (left, front) and daughter Archery (centre, front) along with inner group of disciples at an unknown location (file photo)

All executed: The 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult hanged in July 2018. From top left, leader Shoko Asahara, Tomomasa Nakagawa, Yoshihiro Inoue, Tomomitsu Niimi, Seiichi Endo, Masami Tsuchiya and Kiyohide Hayakawa. From left at bottom are Masato Yokoyama, Yasuo Hayashi, Toru Toyoda, Kenichi Hirose, Kazuaki Okasaki and Satoru Hashimoto

All executed: The 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult hanged in July 2018. From top left, leader Shoko Asahara, Tomomasa Nakagawa, Yoshihiro Inoue, Tomomitsu Niimi, Seiichi Endo, Masami Tsuchiya and Kiyohide Hayakawa. From left at bottom are Masato Yokoyama, Yasuo Hayashi, Toru Toyoda, Kenichi Hirose, Kazuaki Okasaki and Satoru Hashimoto

Video playing bottom right…

Four of the six executed Thursday released sarin on the subway.

The two others were convicted in other crimes, including the 1989 murders of an anti-Aum lawyer and his wife and 1-year-old baby and a 1994 sarin attack in the city of Matsumoto in central Japan, which killed seven people and injured more than 140. An eighth victim in Matsumoto died after being in a coma for a decade.

The executions were announced only after they had happened, as is the practice in Japan.

Japan has never executed so many people in one month, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said. She called their crimes unprecedentedly heinous and said they should never be repeated.

The cult, which envisioned overthrowing the government, amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown.

Police officers stand guard outside Tokyo Detention Center where Aum Shinrikyo cult leader Shoko Asahara was executed, in Tokyo, on July 6

 

Subway passengers affected by sarin nerve gas are treated near Tsukiji subway station, right, in Tokyo in this photo from the attack on March 20, 1995

Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo leader Shoko Asahara was hanged about three weeks ago

Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo leader Shoko Asahara was hanged about three weeks ago

Japan executes Shoko Asahara, cult leader behind sarin gas attack

Named Aum Shinrikyo, or Supreme Truth, it was blamed for 27 deaths before authorities raided its compound near Mount Fuji in 1995 and captured Asahara nearly two months later.

Asahara, whose original name was Chizuo Matsumoto, founded Aum Shinrikyo in 1984. The bearded, self-proclaimed guru recruited scientists and others to his cult, attracting people who were disillusioned with a modern, materialistic lifestyle.

During an eight-year trial, he talked incoherently, occasionally babbling in broken English, and never acknowledged his responsibility or offered meaningful explanations.

The cult once claimed 10,000 members in Japan and 30,000 in Russia. It has disbanded, though nearly 2,000 people follow its rituals in three splinter groups, monitored by authorities.

The doomsday cult members hanged

Thirteen members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult were hanged this month for crimes committed in the 1990s, culminating in sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people and sickened thousands.

EXECUTED THURSDAY FOR THE SUBWAY ATTACK:

– MASATO YOKOYAMA, 55, carried sarin in a plastic bag into the Marunouchi subway line, punctured the bag and fled. His actions seriously injured about 200 people among the 6,000 hurt by the five simultaneous attacks carried out during the morning rush hour on March 20, 1995. Yokoyama hardly spoke throughout the trial. He had studied applied physics at Tokai University and worked at an electronics company before leaving in 1989 to join the cult, where he was ordered to produce machine guns.

– YASUO HAYASHI, 60, joined the cult in 1988 after reading Shoko Asahara’s book and became the cult leader’s bodyguard. He had traveled around the world for three years after graduating from college. Hayashi stabbed three bags of sarin on the Hibiya subway line before fleeing. After more than a year at large, he was arrested on the southern resort island of Ishigaki in 1996. Leaving behind the cult teachings, Hayashi called Asahara a wrong mentor, apologized for his crime and said he deserved the infamous nickname ‘killing machine.’

– TORU TOYODA, 50, released sarin on the Hibiya subway line. After earning a master’s degree in physics at the prestigious University of Tokyo, Toyoda joined the cult in 1992 and engaged in weapons research and development. Toyoda pleaded guilty in his trial, and said he felt he did not deserve to have lived.

– KENICHI HIROSE: 54, had earned a bachelor’s degree in applied physics at Waseda University and studied superconductivity at graduate school. He declined a job offer at a company to join the cult instead. His former supervisor at the university said the physics field globally would have made greater progress if Hirose had used his talent in the right way. He released sarin on the Marunouchi subway line and was convicted for the attack and for illegal weapons production.

EXECUTED THURSDAY FOR OTHER CRIMES:

– KAZUAKI OKASAKI, 57, graduated from an industrial high school and worked at construction sites before donating all his savings to the cult and moving to its commune in 1986. Okasaki fled the group after the 1989 killing of anti-cult lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their baby boy at their Yokohama home, and he surrendered in 1995. He was the first cultist to be sentenced to death in 1998 for the murders of the lawyer’s family and other cult crimes.

– SATORU HASHIMOTO, 51, served in an assault unit of the cult using his experience in karate. Hashimoto was one of six cultists who strangled the lawyer’s family to death and he also drove a vehicle to spray sarin in Matsumoto in 1994, an attack that killed eight people and preceded the subway attack.

EXECUTED ON JULY 6:

– SHOKO ASAHARA: 63, founded Aum Shinrikyo by mixing religions and social disillusionment to attract followers, many of them top university graduates working in science, medicine or other elite fields. They ran sham computer and health-food businesses and collected donations to amass wealth to buy land and equipment. Sarin was only one of the chemical and biological weapons they were able to manufacture, adding to an arsenal the cult built in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown. The Tokyo subway attack was intended to disrupt an investigation into the group. Asahara was convicted in the subway attack; the 1994 sarin attack in Matsumoto; the 1989 killing of the anti-Aum lawyer and his family, and six other murder cases.

– TOMOMASA NAKAGAWA: 55, had been a doctor and helped the cult produce sarin and VX nerve agents. He was convicted in 11 cult crimes in which 25 people were killed. Nakagawa reportedly made an early identification of VX as the method used to assassinate the North Korean leader’s half brother in 2017.

-YOSHIHIRO INOUE: 48, was known as the cult’s ‘genius of training’ and headed its intelligence unit. He rose quickly in the cult to become Asahara’s right-hand man and was the coordinator of the subway attacks.

– TOMOMITSU NIIMI, 54, led a unit of the cult responsible for capturing its members who tried to escape. He also was a getaway driver helping one of the cultists flee after gassing the subway.

– SEIICHI ENDO: 58, graduated from a veterinary school and studied virus and genetic engineering at Kyoto University graduate school. Asahara ordered him to produce sarin, but Endo said in court he did so without knowing its purpose. Endo was convicted in both sarin attacks and an attempted VX attack.

– MASAMI TSUCHIYA: 53, was a chemist who headed the cult’s sarin development and production and was convicted for producing sarin, VX and other chemical weapons.

– KIYOHIDE HAYAKAWA: 68, was the cult’s ‘construction minister,’ responsible for land acquisition and expansion. He was convicted in the murders of the lawyer’s family.

Mind control may have been a factor but not a mitigating one

BY YUMI WIJERS-HASEGAWA

FEB 24, 2004

Mind control at the hands of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara was a key defense argument for many of the 11 cultists sentenced to death and the six others handed life prison terms for carrying out Aum’s heinous crimes — an argument that had little if any effect.

As the convicted cultists pursue their appeals, including before the Supreme Court, their lawyers continue to seek leniency, claiming their clients were brainwashed by the guru and his teachings — a factor the courts have partially recognized.

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In the case of Kiyohide Hayakawa, who was convicted of playing a role in the 1989 murders of Yokohama lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and errant cultist Shuji Taguchi, the Tokyo District Court determined the accused was in a “state of absolute obedience to the guru, in which it was unthinkable to refuse his orders.”

But Hayakawa was nonetheless sentenced to hang. The judge noted, “It is very common in organized crimes that a member of a lower rank blindly follows the orders of his senior, and that does not lessen his criminal responsibility.”

In sentencing Toru Toyoda and Kenichi Hirose to death for their role in the 1995 sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway system, the court also acknowledged the pair were in a state in which they could not reject the guru’s orders.

Journalist Yoshifu Arita, who has closely watched the Aum trials, criticized the court for not taking into adequate account the effects of mind control.

“The court completely lacks the view that it is dealing with crimes committed by a cult,” Arita said. “Sentences are handed down under the same criteria as any other criminal offense, and punishments are based on the number of people killed in the crime involving the accused cultist. But the judges should have first realized that the crimes would never have happened if it had not been for Asahara.”

Arita said society has wrongly perceived the cultists as part of a bizarre fringe group. They could have been anybody, he said, noting Asahara used brainwashing tactics that entailed the use of drugs.

In “the initiation of Christ” ploy, Aum members had to drink a liquid containing LSD, and then were made to sit in solitary confinement with a photo of the guru and listen to his recorded sermons for up to 10 hours.

Because they did not know they had been drugged, they thought their hallucinations were the result of some religious miracle, thereby solidifying their dedication to the guru, Arita said.

“Because the court neglected to look into the mechanism of mind control, our society will remain vulnerable to such crimes in the future,” he said.

Arita said he supports the 2000 district court-imposed life prison term handed to Yoshihiro Inoue. Prosecutors had demanded the death penalty, saying he served as the commander of the 1995 subway attack.

In addition to recognizing that Inoue was a mere “liaison,” the court took into account that he was under the influence of Asahara’s mind control, Arita pointed out.

“At his lawyers’ request, the judge allowed Inoue to undergo psychoanalysis, which showed he was still under Asahara’s mind control. The psychological counseling that followed made him reflect deeply on his deeds” — a factor that may have led to his avoiding capital punishment, he said.

Sadao Asami, professor emeritus at Tohoku Gakuin University and an expert on religious studies who counseled Inoue, also criticized the court for not giving other cultists the chance to receive similar treatment. Only a few judges, lawyers and prosecutors in Japan understand the importance of such treatment for offenders, he said.

“Cultists were not given a chance to look back and repent, and were just sentenced to death, as if that was the objective of the trial. Those in the judiciary feel they are above having to learn (about mind control) even if that may be relevant,” he said.

Asami noted he would have been able to open up Asahara if given the opportunity, possibly helping resolve the mystery surrounding his alleged crimes.

Toyo Atsumi, a professor of criminal law at Chuo University, dismissed this argument and said remorse or the mind control argument should not be mitigating factors in handing down verdicts for crimes of this gravity.

Inoue’s sentence was based solely on his degree of involvement in the attack, Atsumi said, noting mind control is too elusive an argument to be used to determine punishment, especially for members of Aum, who joined the cult at their own volition.

Shoko Asahara, hanged cult guru behind Japan sarin attack

Asahara once led up to 10,000 followers, including some who in 1995 targeted the Tokyo subway in a shocking chemical attack that killed 13 people and injured thousands more

Asahara once led up to 10,000 followers, including some who in 1995 targeted the Tokyo subway in a shocking chemical attack that killed 13 people and injured thousands more

Shoko Asahara, executed Friday for his role in the deadly 1995 sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway, used a mixture of charisma and mysticism to lure followers to his Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult.

The “guru” with his wild hair and unkempt beard, once led up to 10,000 followers, including some who in 1995 targeted the Tokyo subway in a shocking chemical attack that killed 13 people and injured thousands more.

The attack brought international infamy to the Aum group, which attracted a range of devotees, including the doctors and engineers who produced chemical agents for the group’s crimes.

The Aum group released sarin at several points across the Tokyo subway during the morning rush hour on March 20, 1995

The Aum group released sarin at several points across the Tokyo subway during the morning rush hour on March 20, 1995

Despite humble beginnings and being nearly blind, Asahara was a charismatic speaker who attracted hordes of recruits to the cult he developed in the 1980s.

“Asahara was talented at brainwashing,” said Kimiaki Nishida, a professor of social psychology at Rissho University in Tokyo.

He “lured young people, who felt a sense of emptiness in Japanese society,” Nishida told AFP.

Asahara told followers that he would help them acquire “the power of God with the right kind of training” and they would “create a new world” after Armageddon, which he predicted would occur in 1997.

– ‘Violence was a hobby’ –

He was born Chizuo Matsumoto on March 2, 1955, one of nine children of an impoverished straw mat maker in Yatsushiro on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.

He started calling himself Asahara in the 1980s, when the Aum cult was being developed.

He was admitted to a state boarding school for blind children when he was six, quickly earning a reputation for bullying classmates.

“For him, violence was like a hobby. Once he got angry, there was no way to stop it,” a former classmate once said.

Asahara left school at 19 after qualifying as an acupuncturist.

His poor eyesight meant he was unable to pursue his first choice of medical school, and he failed to gain admission to study law at the University of Tokyo — a traditional route into the nation’s elite class.

In 1978, he married Tomoko, and the couple would go on to have four daughters and two sons.

Four years later, he had his first brush with the law, being arrested and fined for selling quack medicine out of his acupuncture practice east of Tokyo.

After the arrest, he became a recluse, reportedly travelling to India and reading religious books, before emerging as a yoga instructor two years later.

He claimed to have achieved enlightenment in the Himalayas and preached an esoteric mix of various Eastern religions combined with his own apocalyptic prophecies.

– Another Asahara? –

His followers claimed their guru, who dressed in Chinese-style pyjama tunics, had extra-sensory powers and could levitate for hours at a time.

In 1990, Asahara and a group of followers ran unsuccessfully for parliamentary election, and after the failed bid he became increasingly violent.

Asahara was sentenced after a lengthy prosecution during which he regularly delivered rambling and incoherent monologues in English and Japanese

Asahara was sentenced after a lengthy prosecution during which he regularly delivered rambling and incoherent monologues in English and Japanese

In June 1994, Aum members released sarin in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto at night, killing eight people, but the attack was not initially linked to the cult.

The group went on developing their chemical weapons, and on March 20, 1995 released sarin at several points across the Tokyo subway during the morning rush hour.

The attack shocked the world, and prompted a massive crackdown that saw Asahara and some of his followers arrested.

He was on death row for the attack and other crimes from 2006, after a lengthy prosecution during which he regularly delivered rambling and incoherent monologues in English and Japanese.

Twelve other Aum members were also sentenced to death over the 1995 attack and other crimes.

The Aum cult, now renamed Aleph, officially disowned Asahara in 2000, but experts believe his influence remains strong, with some members using pictures of him and recordings of his voice for meditation.

And there have been fears that Asahara’s execution could usher in a replacement “guru.”

“It would be no surprise if another Asahara emerges in the future,” Nishida said.

Profiles of the 7 doomsday cult members executed in Japan

TOKYO (AP) – Japan executed the leader and six followers of a doomsday cult Friday for a series of deadly crimes including a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people in 1995. A brief look at the executed:

___

SHOKO ASAHARA, 63, founded the Aum Shinrikyo cult by mixing religions and social disillusionment to attract followers, many of them top university graduates working in science and medicine. They ran sham computer and health-food businesses and collected donations to amass wealth to buy land and equipment. Asahara was convicted in the subway attack; a deadly 1994 sarin attack in Matsumoto, Japan; the 1989 killing of an anti-Aum lawyer and his family and six other murder cases. During his eight years on trial, Asahara rarely spoke and never acknowledged responsibility or apologized.

FILE - In this undated file photo, cult guru Shoko Asahara, left, of Aum Shinrikyo walks with Yoshihiro Inoue, then a close aid, in Tokyo. Japanese media reports say on Friday, July 6, 2018, Asahara, who has been on death row for masterminding the 1995 deadly Tokyo subway gassing and other crimes, has been executed. He was 63. (Kyodo News via AP)

FILE – In this undated file photo, cult guru Shoko Asahara, left, of Aum Shinrikyo walks with Yoshihiro Inoue, then a close aid, in Tokyo. Japanese media reports say on Friday, July 6, 2018, Asahara, who has been on death row for masterminding the 1995 deadly Tokyo subway gassing and other crimes, has been executed. He was 63. (Kyodo News via AP)

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TOMOMASA NAKAGAWA, 55, had been a doctor and helped the cult produce sarin and VX nerve agents. He was convicted in 11 crimes in which more than 20 people were killed. Nakagawa reportedly made an early identification of VX as the method used to assassinate the North Korean leader’s half brother in February 2017. Japanese media reported he sent a letter to toxicologist Anthony Tu, who has investigated the cult’s crimes, in which Nakagawa wrote that VX was a possibility before Malaysian investigators announced their findings in the death of Kim Jong Nam.

___

MASAMI TSUCHIYA, 53, was a key figure in Aum’s production of sarin and other deadly weapons. A chemist who studied at the Tsukuba University graduate school, Tsuchiya joined the cult in 1991 through a yoga class he took as treatment for whiplash he suffered in a car accident. He headed the cult’s sarin development and production and was convicted for producing sarin, VX and other chemical weapons. Initially Tsuchiya expressed strong attachment to Asahara’s teachings but later apologized to the victims and urged Asahara to tell the truth.

___

SEIICHI ENDO, 58, graduated from a veterinary school in Hokkaido and studied virus and genetic engineering at Kyoto University graduate school before joining the cult. Asahara ordered him to produce sarin, but Endo said in court he did so without knowing its purpose. He also worked on botulism but failed to develop it into a biological weapon. Endo was convicted in two sarin attacks and an attempted VX attack.

___

YOSHIHIRO INOUE, 48, was known as the cult’s “genius of training” and headed its intelligence unit. He rose quickly to become Asahara’s right-hand man and was the coordinator of the subway attacks. Inoue became critical of Asahara later and testified as a trial witness for prosecutors, though his statements flip-flopped. His testimony that Asahara ordered the subway gas attack was a determining factor in holding Asahara responsible. He filed for retrial in March 2018 in a last-ditch effort to gain immunity from execution.

___

TOMOMITSU NIIMI, 54, led a unit of the cult responsible for capturing members who tried to escape. He also was a getaway driver who helped one of the cult members flee after releasing gas in the subway. He was sentenced to death for that attack and other crimes. Throughout his trial, Niimi continued to show loyalty to Asahara and called the crimes “murders based on religious intent.”

___

KIYOHIDE HAYAKAWA, 68, was the only one executed who was not involved in the subway attack. He earned a master’s degree in city engineering and landed a job in a major construction company before joining Aum in 1987 as one of its earliest members. Hayakawa had an interest in pseudoscience and UFOs. As the cult’s “construction minister,” Hayakawa was responsible for land acquisition and expansion. He oversaw an effort to make machine guns and the purchase of weapons and a helicopter via Russia. He was convicted in the 1989 murders of the anti-Aum lawyer and his family.

FILE - The Jan. 7, 1990, file photo shows Tomomitsu Niimi, a member of doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo. The cult Aum leader Shoko Asahara and six followers, including Niimi, were executed Friday, July 6, 2018, for their roles in a deadly 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subways and other crimes. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE – The Jan. 7, 1990, file photo shows Tomomitsu Niimi, a member of doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo. The cult Aum leader Shoko Asahara and six followers, including Niimi, were executed Friday, July 6, 2018, for their roles in a deadly 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subways and other crimes. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE - This Jan. 7, 1990, file photo shows Tomomasa Nakagawa, a member of doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo. The cult Aum leader Shoko Asahara and six followers, including Nakagawa, were executed Friday, July 6, 2018, for their roles in a deadly 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subways and other crimes. (Kyodo News via AP, File)/Kyodo News via AP)

FILE – This Jan. 7, 1990, file photo shows Tomomasa Nakagawa, a member of doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo. The cult Aum leader Shoko Asahara and six followers, including Nakagawa, were executed Friday, July 6, 2018, for their roles in a deadly 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subways and other crimes. (Kyodo News via AP, File)/Kyodo News via AP)

FILE - This undated file photo, shows former senior Aum Shinrikyo member Kiyohide Hayakawa. Doomsday cult Aum leader Shoko Asahara and six followers, including Hayakawa, were executed Friday, July 6, 2018, for their roles in a deadly 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subways and other crimes. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE – This undated file photo, shows former senior Aum Shinrikyo member Kiyohide Hayakawa. Doomsday cult Aum leader Shoko Asahara and six followers, including Hayakawa, were executed Friday, July 6, 2018, for their roles in a deadly 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subways and other crimes. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE - In this undated file photo, Yoshihiro Inoue, then a right-hand man of doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara, walks with Asahara in Tokyo. Asahara and six followers, including Inouye, were executed Friday, July 6, 2018, for their roles in a deadly 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subways and other crimes. Inoue headed cult Aum Shinrikyo's intelligence unit and was one of the few cult members who later turned against Asahara. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

FILE – In this undated file photo, Yoshihiro Inoue, then a right-hand man of doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara, walks with Asahara in Tokyo. Asahara and six followers, including Inouye, were executed Friday, July 6, 2018, for their roles in a deadly 1995 gas attack on the Tokyo subways and other crimes. Inoue headed cult Aum Shinrikyo’s intelligence unit and was one of the few cult members who later turned against Asahara. (Kyodo News via AP, File)

Japan cult spinoffs persist two decades after sarin attack

Cult leader Shoko Asahara, seen here in 1995, is on death row along with 12 of his disciples for crimes including the Tokyo subway attack

Cult leader Shoko Asahara, seen here in 1995, is on death row along with 12 of his disciples for crimes including the Tokyo subway attack

More than two decades after Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo cult plunged Tokyo into terror by releasing a nerve agent on rush-hour subway trains, its spinoffs continue to attract new followers.

Cult head Shoko Asahara is on death row, along with 12 of his disciples, for crimes including the subway attack, which killed 13 people and injured thousands.

He was arrested in 1995 in the wake of the sarin attack, but the Aum cult survived the crackdown, renaming itself Aleph and drawing new recruits into its fold.

Aleph officially renounced ties to Asahara in 2000, but the doomsday guru retains significant influence, according to Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency.

“It (Aleph) is a group that firmly instructs its followers to see Asahara as the supreme being,” an agency investigator told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If someone says ‘guru Asahara wants to bring down Japan’, there would be followers who would act. The group poses such a potential danger,” he said.

Raids on Aleph facilities have found recordings of his teachings as well as a device used by the Aum cult known as a “Perfect Salvation Initiation”, a type of headgear that emits weak electric currents which members believe connects them to Asahara’s brainwaves.

Aleph and other splinter groups, which deny links to Asahara despite the claims of authorities, have 1,650 members in Japan and hundreds more in Russia, according to the Public Security Intelligence Agency.

It says the groups attract around 100 new followers annually via yoga classes, fortune-telling and other activities that do not mention the cult’s name, often targeting young people who do not remember the 1995 subway attack.

“Young female followers go to ‘training’ places with their children… We are worried there is an increasing number of children who have been inculcated by the Aum since they were very young,” the investigator said.

– Horrendous ordeals –

Asahara and his wife Tomoko had four daughters and two sons, and most of the family remains within the cult.

One daughter who left in 2006, aged 16, has described horrifying ordeals during her childhood, including being forced to eat food with ceramic shards in it and being left in the cold in little clothing.

“It was an environment unthinkable in modern-day Japan. I was afraid I would be killed if I rebelled, so I felt tense, as if I were on a battleground, for 16 years,” she said in a statement last year.

“I strongly hope no more children will grow up in the Aum’s successor groups.”

In early March, on Asahara’s 63rd birthday, investigators were keeping their usual close eye on the headquarters of an Aum splinter group in a quiet Tokyo residential area.

“We are not marking the day in any way,” said Akitoshi Hirosue, deputy head of the Hikarinowa (The Circle of Rainbow Light) group.

“We actually think Asahara should be executed,” he told AFP at the group’s headquarters.

Hikarinowa split from Aleph in 2007 under the leadership of flamboyant former Aum spokesman Fumihiro Joyu, and now has around 100-150 members.

“As long as the death penalty is not implemented against him, Asahara is the ‘saviour exempt from execution’ and helps Aleph win more followers,” Joyu recently said in arguing for the death of his former guru.

Aleph training halls are closed to media and the group did not respond to enquiries by AFP.

– A new ‘guru’? –

Taro Takimoto, a lawyer who has helped relatives of cultists for decades, supports capital punishment for Asahara but not the 12 other members on death row, who he says only acted as “limbs” of the guru.

He fears the 12 members will “become martyrs” if executed, only boosting cult recruitment.

Seven of those on death row were moved to different prison facilities in recent days, prompting speculation that they could soon be executed. It was not clear if Asahara was among them.

“We should have them talk until they die a natural death so that they help prevent a recurrence,” Takimoto told AFP.

And he said they deserve some understanding, describing them as “good people” who were brainwashed by Asahara.

“Asahara was more than God to them, the person who knew the entire universe and all its reincarnations. Orders from Asahara were orders from the universe,” he said.

Asahara’s execution may draw a line under the Aum’s crimes for some Japanese, but Takimoto warns it could also trigger suicides among his followers and lead to the appointment of a successor guru.

A leading candidate is Asahara’s second son, according to Takimoto.

“If the second son, bearing Asahara’s ashes, declares himself ‘guru’, he would gain serious religious authority,” opening a new chapter on the cult, Takimoto said.

Japanese police arrest final fugitive connected with 1995 deadly gas attack on subway

 

  • Katsuya Takahashi had been on the run from police for 17 years
  • Former member of Aum Shinrikyo cult arrested on suspicion of murder and for his part in deadly Tokyo subway sarin nerve gas attack
  • Suspect had worked as a bodyguard to cult leader Shoko Asahara
Former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Katsuya Takahashi was arrested today following a 17-year manhunt

Former Aum Shinrikyo cult member Katsuya Takahashi was arrested today following a 17-year manhunt

A former cult member who spent 17 years on the run after he was suspected of taking part in a deadly nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway has been arrested.

Katsuya Takahashi, 54, who belonged to the Aum Shinrikyo cult, is suspected of involvement in a sarin gas nerve attack in 1995 which killed 13 people and injured more than 6,000.

Employed as the bodyguard to cult leader Shoko Asahara, Mr Takahashi was today arrested on suspicion of murder after he was tracked down at a comic-book cafe.

An employee at the downtown Tokyo store had recognized him and called police.

Mr Takahashi had been wanted by police for years and they finally received a new lead after another fugitive from the cult was arrested on June 3.

Thousands of officers had since been hunting for the fugitive across the Japanese capital, handing out fresh photos of the suspect and monitoring transport to stop him escaping.

Mr Takahashi allegedly helped one of the members, who released sarin on the subway, to flee from the scene.

He is also suspected in a 1995 cult-related kidnapping-murder, as well as a mail bomb that injured a Tokyo city employee.

Television footage showed a huge crowd gathering outside the cafe, trying to catch a glimpse of the last cult fugitive. Public broadcaster NHK showed a thin, bespectacled Takahashi being pushed into a police car.

The suspect’s appearance has apparently changed so much over the years, with his trademark bushy eyebrows becoming much thinner, that police officers had to wait while his fingerprints were verified.

He was arrested after being taken to a nearby police station, then transferred to Tokyo police headquarters for interrogation.

Police believe he had been hiding in the Tokyo area under a false name.

A police car believed to be carrying Katsuya Takahashi whisks past a crowd of journalists towards Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department

A police car, believed to be carrying Katsuya Takahashi, whisks past a crowd of journalists towards Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department

Journalists gather in front of the comic book cafe where the former Aum Shinrikyo cult member was detained by police

Journalists gather in front of the comic book cafe where the former Aum Shinrikyo cult member was detained by police

Extra editions of newspapers report the arrest of the last fugitive member of the former Doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo

Extra editions of newspapers report the arrest of the last fugitive member of the former Doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo

A security camera last week showed him trying to withdraw money from a bank shortly after the other fugitive was arrested.

The local media has also reported that Mr Takahashi was working at a construction company, where he was known as a quiet and antisocial person, who always wore a surgical mask.

This wanted sketch released by Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department shows Katsuya Takahashi, a former member of Aum Shinrikyo cult.
This undated picture shows Katsuya Takahashi, a former member of Japan's Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult who was wanted in connection with the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

Police circulated photographs and an artist’s impression of Katsuya Takahashi in recent weeks

A security camera last week showed Katsuya Takahashi trying to withdraw money from a bank shortly after the another fugitive was arrested

A security camera last week showed Katsuya Takahashi trying to withdraw money from a bank shortly after the another fugitive was arrested

Nearly 200 members of Aum Shinrikyo have now been convicted of the 1995 attack and dozens of other crimes.

Police also found that the cult had amassed a secret arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons, in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with the government.

Thirteen, cult members, including leader Shoko Asahara, are on death row.

Makoto Hirata, charged in the 1995 kidnapping-murder as well as the subway attack, stunned the Japanese public when he surrendered to police on New Year’s Eve.

Naoko Kikuchi, who was arrested on June 3, is accused of helping to produce the deadly sarin nerve gas which was released on the subway.

The cult, split into two groups – each renamed Aleph and the Circle of Rainbow Light – once had 10,000 members in Japan and claimed another 30,000 in Russia. It still has hundreds of members.

The cult is under police surveillance and its current leaders have publicly disavowed Asahara.

Cult leader Shoko Asahara, pictured in a police van following an interrogation in 1995

Cult leader Shoko Asahara, pictured in a police van following an interrogation in 1995

The sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 killed 13 people and injured more than 6,000

The sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 killed 13 people and injured more than 6,000

Former member recounts Aum’s control

His father tried for years before finally thwarting Asahara’s beguiling ways

BY KAHO SHIMIZU
SEP 17, 2006

 

The Supreme Court may have finalized the death sentence for Shoko Asahara, but the truth behind Aum Shinrikyo’s unprecedented string of heinous crimes and what its founder actually sought to achieve remain a mystery.

 

One thing, however, that is clear to Hiroyuki Nagaoka — who succeeded in getting his son out of the cult — and to the son himself, is why so many people were attracted to Aum in the late 1980s through the early 1990s.

Nagaoka and his son say Aum served as a shelter for young people who became emotionally unstable after having trouble adapting to society.

“When I nearly got neurotic, I went to Aum Shinrikyo to seek help and they said everything would be resolved if I followed its doctrine,” recalled the 37-year-old son, who asked that his name not be used.

He joined Aum in October 1987 and left in February 1990 thanks to his father’s persistent persuasion.

His first encounter with the cult was at a bookstore where he picked up a volume authored by Asahara. At the time he was in university, studying Indian philosophy and struggling with the gap between what he wanted to study and what reality required of him.

He was attracted to the cult’s doctrines as they were full of progressive ideas that he had never before encountered, and decided he wanted to meet the guru, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto. He soon knocked on the door of an Aum branch in his neighborhood.

Aum members told him he would soon recover from his neurosis if he followed the cult’s doctrines.

“Within weeks after joining Aum, my suffering ended and I thought the cult really helped me,” he said, adding that other Aum members had gone through a similar experience. “In retrospect, I can now say that I only wanted something in which I could immerse myself to get away from my worries, and it didn’t have to be Aum.”

He also pointed out that many followers felt drawn to Asahara not only because of the cult’s systematic mind control but also because of the clever way the guru treated his disciples.

Like many other followers, Nagaoka’s son said, he underwent the cult’s “training,” including being forced to meditate in solitary confinement where videos of Asahara’s sermons were aired round the clock.

When he first met Asahara, the guru was humble and always expressed his gratitude and willingness to respect his followers.

“(Asahara) knew how to use both the carrot and the stick to make members” bend to his orders, he said. He was so devoted to the guru that at one point he pitied his father, now 67, for not being able to comprehend Aum’s value. Even after leaving the cult, it took three years to get Asahara completely out of his mind, he said.

The nation was shocked by the revelation that a series of crimes — including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 people and injured some 5,500 — were perpetrated by corps of Asahara’s “elite disciples.”

The public wondered why such highly educated people, including experts in science who went to prestigious institutions like the graduate school of the University of Tokyo, would turn to Aum.

Nagaoka’s son believes it had something to do with the rote-memory education system that Japan has promoted in the postwar period, in which students are encouraged to memorize what is written in textbooks to pass entrance exams for prestigious universities.

“At that time, people (who attended prestigious schools) were those who could memorize whatever was written in the textbooks,” but they lacked the skill to analyze the information and think for themselves, he said.

“When such people go out into the real world and run into obstacles, they become susceptible to new, extreme ideologies” which they tend to believe provides them with an easy solution, he said.

Nagaoka did everything he could to save his son — from investigating Asahara’s past using a private detective agency to setting up a group of families and relatives of cult members in 1989 together with anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto. The attorney, along with his wife and infant son, were later murdered by Asahara’s close aides.

Using the information Nagaoka obtained from the detective agency, he tried to convince his son that Asahara was an impostor.

Nagaoka’s anti-Aum activities prompted cultists to attempt to kill him by pouring VX gas on his neck on Jan. 4, 1995. Nagaoka recovered but still suffers from the aftereffects, including numbness in his right hand.

“I first came to be suspicious about the cult when I found a piece of writing in my son’s room in 1988,” Nagaoka said. The statement, signed with Nagaoka’s name, claimed to transfer all the rights and assets of Nagaoka’s son, which he would inherit from his father, to Asahara. “They were trying to obtain everything from us, even a single phone card,” Nagaoka said.

He first thought the cult was trying to rip off members but later realized that what Asahara was trying to achieve went beyond merely making money by exploiting the cult’s members.

“I caught a glimpse of his intention to destroy the world while I was investigating him,” Nagaoka said. “Asahara was filled with a feeling of hatred toward other people.”

Asahara, who has largely remained silent, has not said anything worthwhile in court to give a hint of his ultimate aims, leaving critics and commentators to guess what he was really trying to achieve.

Critics say that Aum’s decision to target the Kasumigaseki district — Japan’s administrative hub — in the sarin gas attack and Asahara running for the Diet in 1990 indicate he was trying to topple the government and eventually rule the country.

Nagaoka’s persistent efforts gradually moved his son to leave Aum, but he said he could not immediately trust him. He thought his son might be pretending so he could spy on him and the group of relatives.

Nagaoka and his son are now working together to get current members of Aum, which has renamed itself Aleph, to leave the cult. Aleph is believed to have 1,650 members.

“I told my son it is his duty to help members leave because he took part in recruiting new members,” Nagaoka said.

His son, who is married to a former Aum member and has two children, now looks at Asahara with distrust.

“I think (Asahara) is selfish. It seems like he only wants to protect himself.”

 

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