Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
TOKYO - The Tokyo High Court on Friday sentenced a former AUM Shinrikyo member to 17 years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder in connection with the cult's sarin nerve gas attack in Matsumoto, central Japan, in 1994, upholding a lower court ruling.
The court found Takashi Tomita, 43, guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder while standing guard in the attack that killed seven people.
Presiding Judge Kaoru Kanayama said in handing down the ruling that cult founder Shoko Asahara, 46, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, had masterminded the massacre and that Tomita had conspired with him.
But the judge decided to give Tomita a fixed prison term rather than the life term prosecutors were seeking, saying Tomita ''was not a senior member of the cult and his role in the attack was subordinate.''
Kanayama ruled that Tomita did not know the gas was sarin, but did know it was deadly and that many people could be injured or die.
On June 27, 1994, AUM members sprayed sarin in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, using a vaporizer and a fan mounted in a vehicle.
Tomita pleaded innocent to the charges. He admitted his presence at the crime scene, but said he did not know the gas was sarin or that it was deadly.
Tomita was also charged with preparing for murder in the construction of a plant to produce sarin in Yamanashi Prefecture.
TOKYO - The Tokyo District Court on Wednesday ordered seven former AUM Shinrikyo members to pay a total of 59 million yen to four relatives of a 68-year-old man AUM abducted and killed in 1995.
The court said senior member Yoshihiro Inoue, 31, and six other AUM members should compensate the family of Kiyoshi Kariya, the clerical chief of a notary's office in Tokyo's Meguro Ward, which had sought 128 million yen in damages from eight former AUM members.
Presiding Judge Hiroshi Ohashi said although the defendants did not intend to kill Kariya, cult founder Shoko Asahara, 46, ordered them to abduct Kariya and they were responsible for the unlawful acts of abducting him, confining him and eventually killing him.
Asahara decided to abduct Kariya in order to get information from him on the whereabouts of his sister, who was a member of the cult but had fled from an AUM facility with the intention of quitting the cult.
Inoue and the others abducted Kariya in February 1995 on a street in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward and confined him in a cult facility in Yamanashi Prefecture.
They injected him with an excessive amount of anesthetic in order to get the information, but he died of the overdose.
The judge ruled that one of the defendants was not liable for damages.
The court also ruled that Kariya's sister owns a claim to about 44 million yen from the cult's bankruptcy administrator. The sister had demanded the cult and five senior members return a 60 million yen donation she had made to the cult.
In the case, Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, has been ordered to pay about 103 million yen in damages and return 60 million yen in donations to Kariya's relatives.
The family and the cult have already reached a settlement.
PARIS - Aum Supreme Truth, the Japanese doomsday sect which carried out a nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, made a trial run of an anthrax weapon, using harmless vaccine bacteria as a test, New Scientist says.
What has been dismissed as a botched attempt to carry out an anthrax attack may have been a dress rehearsal for the real thing, it says in a report due to be published on Saturday.
Hiroshi Takahashi, a scientist at Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases, told an anthrax conference in Maryland in June that the sect cultured the bacteria in large drums of liquid in the basement of its eight-storey headquarters in the Tokyo suburb of Kameido, the report says.
Then, in July 1993, sect members pumped the liquid to the roof and sprayed it in the air for 24 hours.
Takahashi said police investigated when neighbours complained about the smell, but they were unable under Japan's religious protection laws to enter and search the building.
However, they did manage to take samples of a fluid leaking from a pipe on the outside of the building.
No one in the neighbourhood fell sick. Because of this, when light was eventually shed on Aum's experiments with biological weapons, the operation was seen as a failed attempt to create anthrax.
But, New Scientist says, new evidence suggests Aum was farther down the road to anthrax terrorism than previously thought.
A laboratory at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff has now analysed the fluid sample taken by the police, and found it to be full of live, healthy anthrax bacteria.DNA analysis shows that the bacteria belong to the Sterne strain, which is used in live vaccine for animals, the report says.
Sterne anthrax is designed to lack a fragment of DNA that enables the bacteria to become toxic, and is thus harmless.
Aum carried out the spraying in a practice run, but may have been discouraged from carrying out a real attack because of police attention, Arizona researcher Kimothy Smith suggests.
"I have no doubt people would have been sick, and probably died, if they had used a virulent strain," Smith told New Scientist.
The results are worrying, he said.
They show the sect had already overcome the biggest hurdles with bioweapons -- keeping cultures alive, manufacturing enough of the bugs and spraying in sufficient volumes so as to cause mass death.
Aum released the nerve gas sarin in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto, killing four people, in June 1994. It carried out a sarin attack on the Tokyo subway in March 1995, killing 12 and injuring around 5,000 others.
The cult's leader, Shoko Asahara, is on trial facing multiple charges including murder.
Anthrax is a voracious bug that occurs naturally in warm-blooded animals in hot climates. It is usually passed on to people exposed to butchered or decomposing meat.
TOKYO - Fumihiro Joyu, a leading member of the AUM Shinrikyo religious cult, suggested Friday that he will assume leadership of the cult in the near future, taking over the post from current leader Tatsuko Muraoka.
Joyu, 38, told a Tokyo press conference that senior members of the group, which now calls itself Aleph, are discussing the leadership change and that an official decision will be made after a consensus is reached.
Muraoka, 50, is widely believed to be the nominal leader of the religious group, many of whose members have been convicted or are on trial in serious criminal cases, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that left 12 people dead and thousands injured.
Joyu became well-known to the Japanese public through his media exposure as AUM's spokesman until his arrest in October 1995 on suspicion of perjury and document falsification.
He was convicted of the charges and released Dec. 29, 1999, after serving a three-year term. Following the release, he rejoined the religious cult.
Joyu also told the news conference the group members will refrain from attending court hearings of the cult's founder Shoko Asahara to ''completely sever contacts'' with him.
Asahara, 46, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, has been indicted on 13 criminal charges, including those related to the subway sarin gas attack.
The group said members who wish to attend a hearing may do so only once from September until it totally bans such attendance in April next year.
The cult will also collect from members books teaching Asahara's doctrines and distribute books with new teachings. It will also regularly open its facilities to local government officials and residents, AUM members said.
Public security authorities suspect Joyu is trying to emphasize he is not a direct successor of Asahara by distancing AUM followers from the founder and carefully considering the timing of his leadership assumption.
A Tokyo District Court ruling ordering Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara to pay about 464 million yen to relatives of victims of a sarin gas attack in Nagano Prefecture in 1994 became final Thursday after the appeals deadline passed Wednesday midnight with no challenges.
On July 25, the court ordered Asahara to pay the damages to eight relatives of four victims of the June 1994 attack in Matsumoto. The plaintiffs had filed the 545 million yen damages suit in August 1995.
The court acknowledged that considering evidence and testimony from former senior members of the cult, the attack was planned and organized under Asahara's instructions and carried out by his followers.
Seven people were killed and 144 injured in the gassing, which was perpetrated at around 10:40 p.m. on June 27, 1994.
TOKYO - A Tokyo District Court ruling ordering AUM Shinrikyo cult founder Shoko Asahara to pay about 464 million yen to kin of victims of a sarin gas attack in Nagano Prefecture became final Thursday as the appeals deadline passed midnight Wednesday with no challenges.
On July 25, the court ordered Asahara to pay the damages to eight relatives of four victims of the June 1994 attack in Matsumoto in the central Japan prefecture. The plaintiffs had filed the 545 million yen damages suit in August 1995.
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