Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia - Russian prosecutors on Friday called for a maximum eight-year jail term for four Russian followers of Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult for allegedly plotting a terrorist attack in Japan in an attempt to rescue Aum leader Shoko Asahara from Japanese jail.
The state demanded the eight-term prison term for Dmitry Sigachev, the alleged leader of the plot, and between three and five years for three other defendants.
Prosecutors on Wednesday demanded the death sentence for a former senior member of Aum Shinrikyo over his involvement in a series of murders committed by the doomsday cult, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
Tomomitsu Niimi, 37, is being tried on charges relating to 11 cases, including seven murder cases and two attempted murder cases that date back to the period between February 1989 and April 1995.
The seven murder cases in question involve a total of 26 deaths.
During previous hearings at the Tokyo District Court, Niimi had confessed to all the allegations leveled against him -- apart from involvement in the subway attack that left 12 people dead and thousands injured.
"I knew I would be sentenced to death when I was arrested," he said.
Prosecutors claim that Niimi, who was a close aide of Aum founder Shoko Asahara, 46, played a direct role in all seven murder cases, with the exception of the subway attack. In the latter, he is believed to have played a conspiratorial role and served as chauffeur for other cultists who released the deadly gas in the subway trains.
He played a direct role, however, in the murder of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family in November 1989, as well as in the sarin attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in June 1994, according to prosecutors.
The Matsumoto attack left seven dead and 144 injured.
Niimi is the only Aum member who has been indicted in all seven murder cases along with Asahara, the alleged mastermind behind the crimes. Asahara's real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.
Niimi's lawyers claim he should not be handed the death sentence as he was only carrying out orders from Asahara to build an "ideal place" for cult members after the murder of the Sakamoto family.
Niimi, a native of Aichi Prefecture, joined Aum's predecessor body in 1986, after graduating from college.
In his first public hearing, Niimi told the court he was a "direct disciple of Asahara."
He later said he was still loyal to the Aum guru and that his belief in Asahara's teachings remained unwavering. Aum now calls itself Aleph.
During a hearing earlier this month, Niimi refused to apologize to the victims of his crimes, saying they were "superreligious acts" that transcended worldly values.
TOKYO - Fumihiro Joyu, a longtime spokesman for the AUM Shinrikyo cult and its de facto No. 2 man, announced Thursday he will take over the cult, responsible for the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other crimes, at the end of January.
TOKYO -- Prosecutors demanded the death penalty Wednesday for a former leader of the doomsday cult that carried out a nerve gas attack in Tokyo's subways that killed 12 people and sickened thousands.
Tomomitsu Niimi, former "home affairs minister" of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, is being tried in for the murders of 26 people in seven separate attacks, including the 1995 subway attack and the slaying of a lawyer and his family.
Prosecutors called for death, Tokyo District Court spokeswoman Mizuka Oku said.
Niimi gained notoriety at the start of his trial in 1996 by refusing to enter pleas and pledging eternal loyalty to Aum guru Shoko Asahara.
Niimi is accused of helping to organize the 1989 strangulation of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, one of the first people to raise questions about the cult's activities, along with his wife and son.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is being tried separately for allegedly masterminding the subway gas attack and other killings. Several former cult leaders have been sentenced to death in those cases.
The cult, which advocated overthrowing the Japanese government by sowing chaos, was declared bankrupt in March 1996 but has regrouped under a new name, Aleph. It is under surveillance by Japan's Public Safety Agency, which has warned that the group is still a threat.
TOKYO - The Aum Shinrikyo cult, which now calls itself Aleph, is trying to increase its appeal by portraying itself as an "open cult" in an effort to expand its operations, the Public Security Investigation Agency said Saturday.
The agency said in an annual report that Aum has established new headquarters at three Minami-Karasuyama condominium complexes in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, where the cult's regional leaders from across Japan meet monthly.
MOSCOW - Russia has refused entry to 16 members of the Tokyo-based Aum Shinrikyo religious cult this year, Federal Security Service (FSB) head Nikolay Patrushev said Tuesday, according to Interfax news agency.
The FSB declined to make public the nationality of the members or the purpose of their attempted visits. Aum, which now calls itself Aleph, claims it used to have several tens of thousand followers in Russia. It is now outlawed in the country.
TOKYO - The Tokyo High Court on Thursday upheld a death sentence for a former senior AUM Shinrikyo member who murdered an anti-AUM lawyer, his wife and infant son and also a follow AUM member both in 1989.
Presiding Judge Yoshimasa Kawabe affirmed the Tokyo District Court's 1998 death sentence against Kazuaki Okazaki, 41, finding him guilty of killing Yokohama lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, then 33, his wife Satoko, then 29, and their 1-year-old son Tatsuhiko. Sakamoto was at the time leader of a group of lawyers representing families whose relatives joined the cult.
In the appeal by former Aum Shinrikyo senior member Kazuaki Okazaki, 41,accused of the murder of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and baby as wellas a male member of the cult, presiding Judge Yoshimasa Kawabe of the TokyoHigh Court Dec. 13 upheld the death penalty that was handed down in thefirst trial at the Tokyo District Court and rejected Okazaki's appeal.
The judge said that his decision was based on the fact that "Despite knowingthat the act would never be acceptable, Okazaki committed the crime. Hemurdered four people, including a totally innocent baby, which can only bedescribed as cruel. We can even say that he basically played the leadingrole."
This is the first death penalty ruling of the appellate court in a series ofAum-related crimes.
The judge at the first trial acknowledged that Okazaki turned himself in topolice because of his participation in the series of crimes. Kawabe at theappeal court, however, pointed out that his motivation was not to atone forhis crime, but only for "self-preservation," and found him to have no realremorse.
The Nagoya District Court Dec. 12 ordered Nagoya City to nullify the NakaWard decision to reject the attempted relocation of the Nagoya branch of thecult formally called Aum Shinrikyo (now known as Aleph), and also orderedofficials to pay ¥30,000 in compensation.
"There are no laws stipulating that possible danger from someone moving intoan area can be grounds for a municipality's refusal to accept the mover'schange of address notification. (Nagoya City's) action was illegal," thecourt said.
A 31-year-old female cult member initially claimed that it was unlawful forthe ward to stop her from filing a change of address notification when thebranch was transferred there. She demanded that Nagoya nullify the rejectionand was seeking restitution of ¥1 million.
The decision showed the judge's recognition of the ward's actions, whichindicated sympathy with the requests of the local residents, who werefearful of the cult. "The religious group has not yet been wiped out andinfluential power of its guru and other cohorts still remains.
Based on this kind of understanding, however, the judge decided, "When amover submits a change of address notification, municipal leaders shouldaccept the document and update its local register.
"Leaders cannot consider circumstances such as organized opposition by localresidents," the judge said.
Five Russian adherents of the Aum Shinrikyo cult went on trial Wednesday on charges of planning to conduct bomb attacks in Japanese cities to force authorities to free the cult's leader.
The group planned to issue the demand for cult leader Shoko Asahara's release just before the Group of Eight summit on Okinawa on July 21-23, 2000. According to the prosecution they had hoped the international spotlight and the threat of bombings would bring a quick response.
Three group members were arrested on July 1, 2000, one was arrested earlier this year and one more at an unspecified date.
Asahara is being tried in Japan on charges of murder and attempted murder for allegedly ordering the March 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway, in which 12 people died and some 5,000 were sickened. Seven members of his cult have been convicted in the attack, in which members entered subway trains at rush hour and punctured bags filled with sarin nerve gas.
The cult gained a number of Russian followers when it was registered in the country from 1992 to 1994. It was later outlawed, but some of the more fanatic adherents kept in contact with one another and continued practicing the cult's teachings.
As a Vladivostok judge read the full indictment against the five suspects at the trial's opening Wednesday, Dmitry Sigachev, their leader, closed his eyes at times as if meditating, becoming agitated only when he heard Asahara's name mispronounced. He loudly interjected with a correction.
The indictment said the Russian adherents had conspired to plant bombs in several previously scouted, busy locations in Japan.
The spots in Tokyo included a gas cylinder warehouse, an apartment building, two stores, a hotel, a major highway intersection, an overpass and the area around a subway station. In another Japanese city, Aomori, their target was a 15-story tourism and trade center.
The indictment said that bombs, four pistols, an assault rifle and other weapons were to have been smuggled to Japan out of Vladivostok. Sigachev was to e-mail the demands to the Japanese prime minister from an Internet-cafe in Japan and trigger the bombs if the demands were not met.
If released, Asahara was to have been taken by boat to a small town in the region of Vladivostok where the group had purchased an apartment.
The prosecution said Sigachev had received $120,000 from a Japanese cult member at secret meetings in Vienna, Austria, and on Bali Island in Indonesia in 1999. He smuggled the money back into Russia, it said.
According to the indictment, Sigachev told the Japanese cult member that he needed the money to publish the cult's literature and continue preaching.
The suspects caught the attention of security agents after three of them moved from Moscow to Vladivostok in early 2000 and bought weapons and explosives, sparking reports by informers and months of surveillance. Two local residents, car tire dealers, joined the group in Vladivostok.
Sigachev and his two closest assistants were handcuffed as police escorted them into the courtroom and placed them in a special cage Wednesday. One suspect is free on his own recognizance not to leave Vladivostok and another is at hospital for a medical examination. If convicted, the defendants face up to 20 years in prison.
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- Four Russian followers of the AUM Shinrikyo religious cult admitted at the first hearing of their trial in Vladivostok on Wednesday that they planned to set off bombs near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo as well as in the cities of Sapporo and Aomori.
Dmitry Sigachev and three other AUM followers planned the attacks to try to free AUM guru Shoko Asahara, Russian security authorities said. AUM stands accused of being responsible for the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack.
The four prepared explosives in late 1999 in Vladivostok, the authorities said.
In Tokyo, they planned bombings near the Imperial Palace and the Tokyo Detention House, where Asahara is imprisoned, the authorities said. The four also planned to set off bombs at a station and a hotel in Sapporo, as well as a tourist center in Aomori, they said.
Sigachev came to Japan in March last year and dropped plans to target the Imperial Palace and the Diet due to tight security, according to Russian security investigations. He also checked security around the detention house in Katsushika Ward and found there were few people strolling around the area at night.
The four planned to demand that the Japanese government hand Asahara over to them so that they could take him to a coastal region, according to the authorities. The suspects also prepared a threatening letter addressed to then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, the authorities said.
The four and others convened an international gathering of AUM followers in Prague in the spring of 2000. During the parley, one of Asahara's daughters, in a prerecorded video, pleaded with the Russians to abandon their planned terrorist attacks on Japan, the Russian authorities said.
The four also traveled to Vienna and Bali and received $30,000 and 9 million yen from a man identifying himself as ''Ichiro Ishii,'' the authorities said.
The four were arrested by Russian authorities in July last year.
AUM founder Asahara and a number of other members of AUM, which now calls itself Aleph, have been tried for the Tokyo subway attack in which 12 people were killed and thousands injured, as well as for a number of other crimes.
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia - Five Russian members of Japan's Aum Shinrikyo doomsday sect accused of plotting to free imprisoned cult leader Shoko Asahara, went on trial in Russia's Pacific coast port of Vladivostok on Wednesday.
Russia's FSB domestic security service said the men, who appeared in a metal cage as is the practice in Russian courts, had gathered weapons and explosives to blackmail the Japanese government into freeing the Aum leader.
Asahara has been on trial for six years on charges of organising a 1995 nerve-gas attack in the Tokyo subway in which 12 people died and thousands were hurt.
"Had the Japanese government not agreed to their ultimatum to free Shoko Asahara, they had planned explosions to take place immediately in several Japanese cities," an FSB official told Reuters.
Dmitry Sigachyov, leader of the Russian group, told reporters ahead of the trial that he intended to plead guilty, but no pleas were entered on the opening day.
Russian news agencies said the accused, charged with terrorism, illegal possession of arms and smuggling, could face from five to 20 years in prison.
Aum Shinrikyo was one of several cults that attracted a large following in the former Soviet Union in the turmoil that followed the collapse of communism in the 1990s.
Founded in 1993, the Russian branch of the sect ran half a dozen centres in Moscow and claimed 30,000 followers -- three times more than in Japan -- before it was banned by Moscow courts in 1995. Cult followers have denied any wrongdoing.
The FSB tracked down the Vladivostok group after an Interior Ministry operation uncovered an internet site seeking "a specialist able to make explosives to go off at a set time".
Investigators later established the group was preparing explosive devices that could be detonated from anywhere in the world, using mobile telephones. Among the targets was a site 250 metres (yards) from the prison where Asahara was being held, and the busy Ueno park in central Tokyo.
Sigachyov had planned to fly legally to Japan to oversee the attacks, while the rest of the team would bring weapons into the country illicitly by power boat.
Sigachyov and two co-defendants, Boris Tupeiko and Dmitry Voronov, are being held in custody while a fourth, Alexander Shevchenko, was told not to leave Vladivostok. A fifth cult member, Alexei Yorchuk, was certified insane, a court official said. It was not yet clear whether he would stand trial.
In a bid to project a new image, Aum Shinrikyo changed its name to Aleph -- the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet -- in January 2000.
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