Cult leader executed for Japan sarin attacks still a mystery

Jul 08, 2018, 05:01
Cult leader executed for Japan sarin attacks still a mystery

Asahara had masterminded numerous murders including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that led to the deaths of 29 people among a total of over 6,500 victims.

On March 20, 1995, members of the cult carried plastic bags filled with sarin and umbrellas with sharpened tips onto the subway lines passing under the political district in the capital city. The attack had killed 13 people and injured thousands more. Japan's Justice Ministry later confirmed reports that six followers of the cult had been executed along with the leader.

The attack in 1995 woke up a relatively safe country to the risk of urban terrorism.

The cult's main doctrine followed Shoko Asahara as the first "enlightened one" on Earth since Buddha, who preached that the apocalypse would begin with America and Japan entering World War III either in 1006 or between 1999 and 2003.

The executions were a long time coming, but they were expected as the last trial in the case had been completed and some of the condemned convicts had been transferred to other prisons earlier this year.

Despite the horror that persists over the Aum's subway attack and other crimes, some experts had warned against the execution of Asahara and his acolytes.

Aum Shinrikyo is designated a terrorist organisation in the USA and many other countries, but Aleph and Hikari no Wa are both legal in Japan, although designated as "dangerous religions" subject to surveillance.

His trial - and appeals process - took years to complete, and gripped Japan, as police continued to seek other cult members linked to the Tokyo and Matsumoto attacks.

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

Some lawyers, activists and Rika Matsumoto, Asahara's third daughter, had also opposed the execution of Asahara, who was virtually blind and also believed to be mentally and physically troubled.

At Aum's peak in 1995, the number of members exceeded 10,000, but now only about 1,650 members belong to the groups that originated from Aum. "That was my only thought", said Shizue Takahashi, 71, who lost her then-50-year-old husband, the assistant stationmaster Kazumasa, in the Tokyo subway sarin attack, adding many others had been waiting for the day.

Many members were engineers and scientists-some of whom tested sarin and other toxic gases on an Australian sheep farm.

"The police will take measures to be fully prepared", the top government spokesman said when asked by reporters about potential retaliation by people close to the cult.

A 2015 government survey found that 80.3 percent of people supported the death penalty.

His family had said he was mentally incompetent, making it impossible for him to be executed as stipulated in Japan's law of criminal procedure. According to Japan's Justice Ministry, the groups still have faith in Asahara.

In late 1996, Ashara admitted responsibility for the sarin attack but said he was not personally involved in the crime, saying he had been "instructed by God" to shoulder the blame.

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