Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara refused again Thursday to answer questions from his own lawyers, while victims of the cult's crimes called for him to receive the death penalty.
During the day's session at the Tokyo District Court, two victims of the cult's sarin gas attacks and the relative of another addressed the court. Five others submitted written statements.
"Asahara alone should be sentenced to death, to make him realize the seriousness of his sin," said Taro Takimoto, a lawyer who helped some members leave the cult. Cult members tried to murder Takimoto in 1994 by applying liquid sarin to his car.
The daughter of Mitsuo Okada, who died after the Tokyo subway sarin attack in March 1995, said in a statement to the court: "My father, who happened to be on the subway, had his throat cut open at the hospital to insert a breathing tube, but he didn't seem to feel anything.
"He died 15 months later, never opening his eyes once. The culprits should die in the same way."
In response to questions from five lawyers, Asahara turned away in silence, only smiling when asked about the doctrine of his religion.
"I don't understand why you are smiling, but you must understand what is being asked," presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa said. "Can you not say what you are thinking?"
Asahara was last questioned in court by his own lawyers on March 13.
A third and final question session will take place April 10, before prosecutors take over April 24. They are widely expected to ask for the death penalty.
The district court has so far handed down death sentences on nine Aum followers accused of committing a series of crimes allegedly ordered by Asahara.
Also Thursday, current leaders of Aum, which now calls itself Aleph, submitted to the district court a request to cancel the continuing surveillance of the cult by the Public Security Investigation Agency.
The surveillance, which began in 2000 in accordance with a special law effectively targeting the group, expired in January but was extended for three years by the Public Security Examination Commission.
In a news conference following the submission of the request, the cult's public relations chief, Hiroshi Araki, and Akitoshi Hirosue, chief of its legal affairs, said the surveillance violates the Constitution.
While the law says the surveillance can be imposed only when a group is deemed capable of committing indiscriminate murder for political motives, Aum has no political objectives, they said.
"In the trials of cult members such as (senior Aum member) Tomomitsu Niimi, it has been proven objectively by the court that the cult's crimes were caused by Asahara's fantasies, and not by any political ideas," Hirosue said.
Relatives of victims of gas attacks carried out by Japan's Aum Supreme Truth cult have vented their anger at the trial of cult guru Shoko Asahara and demanded the death sentence for him.
The greying, bearded and nearly blind Asahara, 48, appeared for his latest hearing at the Tokyo District Court in a grey sweater and black pants.
He showed no emotion as relatives or survivors of attacks testified about their ordeals for the first time since his trial opened seven years ago.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, kept his arms crossed and occasionally turned his face to the public gallery with his eyes shut.
"Considering he was the leader ... I think he deserves capital punishment," said a 43-year-old man, whose sister has been bed-ridden since she fell victim to the cult's Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway on March 20, 1995.
The gassing during the morning rush hour killed 12 people and injured thousands of others.
The witness, who gave his name in sworn testimony but asked the media not to identify him for fear of reprisals by the cult, said his 39-year-old sister's heart had stopped beating when emergency services reached her.
"She clung to life though her heart had stopped beating when she was rescued.
"Her body is still stiff and bed-ridden. Rehabilitation for her means to be able to sit in a wheelchair."
The victim's brother said it was "irrational" that Asahara was provided with food and clothing while victims' families suffer mentally and financially.
In a written statement read out by a prosecutor, one woman testified: "My father had been bed-ridden for one year and three months and died without opening his eyes or saying a word" after he inhaled the Nazi-invented Sarin gas in the subway on his way to work.
"His throat was cut open with a scalpel to insert a tube, but he did not feel it since the Sarin gas had paralysed his nerves."
Asahara "should disappear from this world in the way my father did", she said.
Another woman whose sister was killed in the Tokyo gas attack said in her statement: "My heart aches when I think about my sister who died an agonising death without understanding what happend to her ... I can think of nothing but capital penalty for him."
Taro Takimoto, a 46-year-old anti-cult lawyer who survived a cult attack with VX nerve gas, also said he wanted to see Asahara sentenced to death.
"The argument for abolishing the death penalty misses the point that human beings are capable of great evil as well as greatness," he said.
Takimoto said he would like to be a witness at Asahara's execution but noted he did not want his Aum disciples to be sentenced to hang.
Asahara has denied masterminding the Tokyo subway attack blaming his disciples, despite testimony from most followers that the offences were commited under his direction.
The cult's guru has made virtually no statement at his trial since January 1998 apart from murmuring incoherently, while he has often appeared to doze during proceedings.
Asahara has refused even to answer his own lawyers' questions.
If he remains silent on a session on April 10, prosecutors are expected to make their closing argument on April 24 against Asahara who is charged with murder and various other crimes in connection to 13 cases.
Nine of his disciples have so far been sentenced to death for their part in the Tokyo gas attack, another gassing in 1994 that killed seven people in the central Japan city of Matsumoto and other murders, including strangling of the entire family of an anti-cult lawyer.
Tokyo subway workers offered prayers and flowers Thursday at Kasumigaseki Station to mark the eighth anniversary of the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack that killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.
At 8 a.m., about the time that members of the cult released the nerve gas in subway cars March 20, 1995, 23 employees at Kasumigaseki Station on the Hibiya Line observed a moment of silence at a signal given by station official Hisashi Aoyagi.
Fumio Tajima, stationmaster at Kasumigaseki Station's Chiyoda Line platform, laid a wreath of lilies.
Of the 12 people who died, two were station workers at Kasumigaseki -- Kazumasa Takahashi, 50, and Tsuneo Hishinuma, 51.
Hiroshi Araki, head of public relations at Aum, which renamed itself Aleph in January 2000, also laid flowers at the station.
"At the time of the incident, we seemed to have been only thinking of ourselves," Araki said. "I am pained and can find no words."
As in past years to mark the anniversary, special locations were set up for wreaths at Nakanosakue, Kodemmacho, Hatchobori, Tsukiji and Kamiyacho subway stations.
Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara has been on trial since 1995 in the Tokyo District Court on murder and other charges related to the attack. Prosecutors are scheduled to wrap up their argument against Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, on April 24.
Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara has refused to speak throughout much of his seven-year trial on charges related to the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway system, so it came as little surprise when he remained tight-lipped at Thursday's session at the Tokyo District Court.
Nevertheless, the court, prosecutors and his defense agreed to hold another two question sessions before the prosecution demands punishment.
Asahara's lawyers and presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa have encouraged him to speak of his role in the various cases, but the 48-year-old defendant has responded only with gestures, at times violently, as though trying to communicate in sign language.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is being tried on 13 charges, including murder and attempted murder, related to the March 20, 1995, sarin attack in Tokyo.
During the evidence corroboration session of his hearing, Asahara sat with his eyes closed and did not react when the judge said: "Defendant, defendant . . . the afternoon session starts at 1:15 (p.m.). You will be questioned then. Do you understand?"
During questioning by his three lawyers, Asahara occasionally reacted fiercely, indicating that he was listening to what they were saying.
When a lawyer noted that Asahara once called himself a savior during a sermon, declaring himself Christ by his own interpretation of the Bible, Asahara threw his arms in the air and made gestures as if grabbing at something unseen.
Other tactics have included telling Asahara that it was his responsibility as the cult's leader to speak out, at least for those being tried as his accomplices; trying to stir memories of his youth with questions regarding his decision to turn to religion; and asking him about Armageddon, which Asahara spoke of when criticizing the U.S.
In one of his sermons, Asahara once called the U.S. "a tyrant that treated Japan as its colony."
Using this in an attempt to provoke a response, one lawyer explained the likely U.S.-led war on Iraq and asked, "Is this the situation you have called Armageddon?"
Asahara gestured, but maintained his silence.
The 251st hearing Thursday came after witness testimony sessions that lasted for five years through Feb. 28. If Asahara says nothing for two more sessions, prosecutors will likely present their closing statement and demand punishment by April 24.
Asahara has not spoken in court since November 1999, when he testified at the trial of three cult figures. He was talkative at his first trial session in April 1996, speaking for five minutes about his state of mind, but has since disrupted court sessions by babbling incoherently, often causing him to be removed from the courtroom.
In April 1997, in a barely intelligible mixture of English and Japanese, Asahara said, "I have already been found not guilty" in 16 out of the 17 cases for which he has been indicted.
Now, he reportedly will not speak with his lawyers, even outside the courtroom.
At a news conference after the day's session, victims of Aum's attacks and their families said it was regrettable that Asahara did not speak.
Shizue Takahashi, whose husband died in the subway attack, asked, "Does this man realize whose trial it is?" It's a waste of time to hold any more sessions."
However, Hiroyuki Nagaoka, who represents a group of people whose family members have become cult followers and was himself attacked by cultists using deadly VX gas, said: "Even now, youths are being lured into the cult by smooth-talking cult executives. To save such people, I strongly ask Asahara to say just one thing in the end -- that he was wrong."
Asahara is indicted on 13 counts, including seven of murder. The 1995 sarin attack killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000.
Prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Aum Shinrikyo founder Chizuo Matsumoto when they present final arguments April 24 on his role in two deadly nerve-gas attacks and other crimes, sources said.
Matsumoto, also known as Shoko Asahara, faces 27 murder counts in 13 separate indictments, including the March 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system that left 12 people dead and thousands sickened.
The last of 12 witnesses for the defense presented his testimony to the Tokyo District Court on Friday. Defense witnesses have not swayed prosecutors from their belief that Matsumoto masterminded the sarin attacks and other crimes, including the kidnapping and murder of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family, according to sources close to prosecutors.
Matsumoto's next scheduled court appearance is March 13 and the defense team desperately hopes he will testify, although it looks doubtful. Since the defense lawyers have failed to establish solid grounds of communication with their client, court sources said they will likely be allowed three court sessions to try to convince Matsumoto to respond to questions. If Matsumoto refuses, the court most probably will call an end to the defense case and allow prosecutors to state what punishment they are seeking.
In a rare instance, Matsumoto addressed the court in April 1997 in a case involving an attack on a man using highly toxic VX gas. He contended his offense in that crime should have been listed as ordinary assault rather than attempted murder.
Matsumoto has maintained his innocence throughout.
He last addressed the court in January 1998. Prosecutors have repeatedly cast Matsumoto as an evil guru who intimidated his followers.
Under a revision to the criminal procedure law, about 10 victims of Aum-inspired attacks as well as bereaved family members will be asked later this month to present their opinions.
This, the sources said, would help prosecutors strengthen their case for the severest form of punishment possible.
Defense lawyers have ended their questioning of witnesses in the case against accused mass killer Shoko Asahara, the AUM Shinrikyo cult guru indicted over the lethal gassing of Tokyo subways in 1995.
Lawyers concluded their questioning of witnesses during the 250th hearing of the case against Asahara at the Tokyo District Court on Friday. If Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, fails to respond to questioning beginning on March 13, prosecutors could demand a sentence against him as early as April 24, with a likely ruling next spring.
Asahara has remained silent at his trials since he claimed during a hearing in April 1997 that he did not direct the gassing that cult members carried out.
He is accused of crimes in 13 incidents, including the slaying of anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family. Lawyers began establishing their case in May last year, but they have had trouble with Asahara, who has continually failed to cooperate, mumbling to himself in the trials in an inaudible voice. If Asahara does not cooperate at the next hearing, three attempts will be made to question him. If those attempts fail, prosecutors will present their case for Asahara's sentencing on April 24, and defense lawyers will give their closing arguments in autumn.
The ruling on Asahara would then likely be handed down next spring, eight years since the beginning of the trial. Several members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, which is now calling itself Aleph, have already received death and prison sentences.
Prosecutors may present their closing arguments in late April in the trial of Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara, who stands accused of murder and other heinous crimes, including masterminding two deadly sarin attacks, legal sources said Wednesday.
The Tokyo District Court has informed the prosecution and defense teams of its decision to question the defendant in at least three of the seven trial sessions scheduled for March and April, including the 251st one, slated for March 13, the sources said.
If Asahara, 47, refuses to speak or answer questions, as he has done up to now, the prosecution will probably deliver its closing statement in late April, bringing the trial that began in April 1996 to its final stage, the sources said.
Asahara stands indicted on 13 counts, including seven for murder. The 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack killed 12 people and injured more than 5,000. The nerve gas attack the previous year in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, killed seven and injured hundreds.
In April 1997, Asahara pleaded not guilty to all the charges except for one of attempted murder. He has refused to consult with his court-appointed lawyers throughout the almost seven years of his trial so far.
The cult guru has also refused to respond to questions from the presiding judge in court.
His defense team has asked the court to approve questioning of the defendant in at least three sessions and the court and prosecutors agreed with the request, according to the sources.
The defense examination of witnesses, which began last June, is scheduled to end this month. The presentation of evidence for the trial is expected to end after victims and relatives of the dead make their statements, in addition to the questioning of Asahara.
The world's most popular animal vaccine, produced by a Colorado company, was the unsuccessful "weapon" chosen by a doomsday cult in Japan that two years later killed 12 and sickened thousands by releasing nerve gas in a subway station.
An Arizona researcher told colleagues about the 1993 anthrax attack in Japan at Sunday's session of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual convention in Denver.
The talk showcased the same type of genetic fingerprinting being used to unravel the source of anthrax that killed five in the United States in 2001. It was the first bioterror attack in the U.S. involving anthrax but is unlikely to be the last using that or another infectious agent.
An army of investigators have fingered the Ames strain as the one responsible for America's unsolved anthrax attacks, which infected 22 people, mostly mail handlers. Tracing the source of anthrax, though, is difficult because recognizable differences in vials from various labs are etched into the DNA fingerprint by mutation.
The problem is that the pathogen mutates so slowly it's not clear whether anthrax can be tied to a specific lab by studying mutations alone. "Especially if it's sitting in spores in someone's freezer ... there's little chance to get mutations," said Paul Keim, an anthrax expert at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
Other techniques, such as having a detailed database of pollen native to specific regions of the country, could define where the killer anthrax came from, if unique pollens cling to anthrax samples held in evidence.
FBI officials said Sunday that good databases are apt to be key to solving biological crimes - whether they are anthrax-related or caused by someone intentionally spreading AIDS - and announced plans to build a database of bacteria and viruses that can be used for comparison if such a crime occurred.
It was a database that simplified the task of tracking the source of the anthrax used by Japan's Aum Shinri Kyo cult members in the summer of 1993. In that case, the anthrax matched a sample already in an anthrax database created to help track the former Soviet Union's supplies.
Japanese public health authorities had been tipped off about an eight-story concrete building the cult owned in a crowded area of Tokyo. Neighbors lodged 160 complaints about a terrible stench coming from the building, Keim said.
Public health officials investigated. They snapped photos of a smoke plume rising from the building's roof and scraped slime samples that had oozed down its walls. But they couldn't get inside the doors.
Their worry: the fearsome cult and its psychotic leader were boiling the bodies of assassination victims. "It seems like you could get a search warrant for that," Keim said.
As it turned out, the cult was growing anthrax in the basement in a vat and was pumping it from the building's roof. Meanwhile, cloaked in the banality of a white utility van with special vents, the cult spewed more anthrax-tinged gas through neighborhood streets.
"If authorities at the time had recognized this as a bioterrorist attack, perhaps the sarin gas attack would have never occurred," Keim said.
Instead, the anthrax plot wasn't known until cult members released nerve gas in one of Tokyo's most congested subway stations at rush hour in 1995. After their arrests for that incident, cult members mentioned the earlier anthrax attacks.
Four of five vials containing the slime had already been analyzed by Japanese scientists looking for proteins that would have confirmed rumors the cult processed human remains at the building.
One dusty vial remained in a public health refrigerator. Keim cultured the sample in a petri dish filled with sheep blood. The sample blossomed with the telltale shape of anthrax blooms.
Of the 4,000 activated spores that crowded the petri dish, the lab ran DNA fingerprints for 48, matching them to the Sterne strain vaccine produced by Colorado Serum Co.
"The cult was using a vaccine strain, which wasn't virulent," Keim said.
While some would fault the cult for incompetence, Keim doesn't think that was the problem.
The group's members included graduate level microbiologists. Former cult leader Shoko Asahara had such a tight hold over his followers, he could raise money by selling cups of his bath water for $100 a gulp.
And he swiftly killed, whether the dissenter was an enemy or cult member. "They were afraid to tell him they didn't have the material," Keim surmises.
Keim, under a non-disclosure agreement with the FBI, would not talk about the anthrax case that was on the minds of most at the Sunday symposium - the 2001 letter cases.
Each envelope contained a letter decorated with ominous lines, like "09-11-01 ... You can not stop us.
We have this anthrax. You die now. Are you afraid?"
The anthrax samples Keim's lab analyzed were sent blind. In addition, he said he does not want to make a defense attorney's life easier.
"There are certain areas that are just off-limits," he told reporters.
"Pretty much anything that's directly related to the case I won't talk about. I don't want to be on the stand and have a defense attorney reading me what I said to you."
A Kazakh court has convicted the leader of a local branch of the Aum Shinri Kyo terror sect, the group blamed in a deadly 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway, security officials said Wednesday.
Vladimir Kamenev, 36, was sentenced last week for administrative violations and released on probation, the Committee for State Security said. He was arrested late last year in the southern city of Kyizyilorda when he was hospitalized for tuberculosis after refusing to accept treatment. In the hospital, he also tried to spread the cult's ideas, officials said.
Kamenev first learned about the cult by going through an indoctrination program with the Moscow branch of the sect in 1996, security officials said. He returned to Kazakhstan and started a yoga group, but was actually preaching the cult's ideas, authorities say.
Aum Shinri Kyo was founded by Shoko Asahara in Japan in 1987, and has spread in Kazakhstan through traveling members spreading Asahara's writings.
Three years' surveillance of the Aum Shinrikyo cult (now called Aleph) by the Public Security Investigation Agency, in accordance with the Antisubversive Activities Law, expired at the end of January. But the Public Security Examination Commission, or PSEC, has decided that surveillance should continue for another three years because the danger of Aum perpetrating an act of indiscriminate mass murder cannot be ruled out yet.
Aum appears ready to file an administrative suit to overturn the decision, arguing that continued surveillance violates freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution. The commission states that the decision on extended surveillance is not unconstitutional because it does no more than place necessary and rational restrictions on basic human rights in order to protect public welfare.
One reason cited by the PSEC for concluding that a danger still exists is that Aum still urges followers to show absolute devotion to the former leader of the cult, Chizuo Matsumoto (known in the cult as Shoko Asahara), who is now on trial in Tokyo District Court. Another reason is that Mr. Fumihiro Joyu and other senior members of the cult at the time of the 1994 sarin gas attacks in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, and on the Tokyo subway in 1995, still hold top positions in the group, and that Aum sermons are said to justify past criminal conduct. Furthermore, the commission said Matsumoto still exerts what can be called absolute influence on cult members and that changes in Aum's doctrine have not become a reality.
According to the National Police Agency, Aum has branches at 26 sites in 15 prefectures while maintaining residential facilities at 150 locations. There are about 650 persons who have retired into Aum and about 1,000 lay believers. The cult continues, as before, to procure funds from followers and to actively engage in missionary work. The PSEC, therefore, has concluded that there is still a danger of the cult carrying out indiscriminate killings.
The problem is whether the commission was correct in agreeing to continue surveillance on the grounds that an "abstract danger" exists. In its decision three years ago, the PSEC's interpretation was that "for the recognition of a danger, a specific and realistic fact is not necessary; generally speaking, an abstract fact will suffice." The latest decision is based on this reasoning.
However, in the administrative suit that Aum filed over the previous decision on surveillance, the Tokyo District Court in 2001 ruled that, for the application of surveillance, "it is necessary to prove that there exists a specific danger that an act of indiscriminate mass murder may be committed." The court urged a strict application of the Antisubversive Activities Law, stating that "if there is no such danger, then restrictions on the freedom of religion cannot be permitted."
It ruled that surveillance was only constitutional if applied in a limited manner and criticized the PSEC's previous decision as a mistaken interpretation of the law. However, the court did approve the surveillance in recognition of Matsumoto's continued influence and other relevant factors. In the commission's latest decision, some members argued that three years are too long as a period of punishment. As the Tokyo District Court indicated, the continuation of strict regulations could violate the constitutional guarantees of the freedom of religion and freedom of association.
If Aum files an administrative suit again this time, the focus is likely to be on whether Matsumoto still has enough influence to order and cause an act of indiscriminate mass murder. More than seven years have passed since Matsumoto was arrested. Mr. Joyu claims that Matsumoto no longer has absolute influence and that the need for surveillance has ended, since Aum has taken steps to prevent the repetition of criminal acts.
However, local governments and residents in places where Aum has facilities are concerned that if Matsumoto gave an order, there would be no way of knowing what cult members might do. Some people even call for more forceful restrictions on the cult's activities.
Instead of simply repeating the hollow words that the cult is no longer dangerous, Aum must prove -- in a visible manner -- that it is harmless. More than anything else, it must carry out fundamental reform of its structure so that the public no longer feels any danger. Unless it is prepared to go that far, Aum will not be accepted by society.
The Tokyo High Court on Thursday turned down an appeal by a former senior Aum Shinrikyo figure who was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in the murder of one member and the cremation of another.
Toshiyasu Ouchi, the 50-year-old former head of the cult's Russian branch, had appealed against the November 2000 Tokyo District Court conviction on the charge of conspiring with Aum founder Shoko Asahara and other cult members in the murder of a follower in 1989. Ouchi was also found guilty of illegally cremating the corpse of another follower who died on the cult's property in 1993.
Ouchi's defense had argued that he could not have "conspired" with Asahara, whose orders had absolute power within the cult. The lawyers also said that the stress generated by Asahara's orders drove Ouchi insane.
The lawyers had claimed that Ouchi has no memory of standing guard as the murder took place. Even if Ouchi could remember, the lawyers said, he could not be considered an accomplice because his role did not directly contribute to the crime.
But presiding Judge Masaru Suda dismissed this argument, saying Ouchi consciously participated and fully accepted Asahara's view that the murder was necessary to protect the cult.
In February 1989, senior Aum members, including Ouchi, decided to kill 21-year-old follower Shuji Taguchi because he wanted to leave the cult.
Acting under Asahara's orders, senior cult members strangled Taguchi at the cult's facility in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, while Ouchi stood guard.
In June 1993, Ouchi was involved in the cremation of the body of 25-year-old follower Naoki Ochi, who allegedly died during training at the cult facility.
A senior member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult entered a plea in court Monday after refusing to do so for seven years, saying he is not guilty of murder and attempted murder using deadly nerve gases.
Masami Tsuchiya, 38, had refused to enter a plea ever since his trial began at the Tokyo District Court in November 1995.
Prosecutors charge that Tsuchiya was one of the key figures in the cult's production of the sarin and VX gases, and have accused him of involvement in the March 1995 subway gassing attack, which killed 12 people, and a series of other crimes using deadly gases.
During Monday's court session, Tsuchiya admitted to most of the prosecutors' charges concerning his role in the cult's illegal production of PCP, a powerful psychedelic drug.
Tsuchiya also admitted that he produced sarin and VX gases while with the cult, but denied that he colluded with cult founder Shoko Asahara in using the gases for murder or attempted murder.
He said he is doubtful that the sarin gas sprayed on Tokyo subway trains in the 1995 case was produced by him. He also insisted that sarin was not among the gases sprayed by Aum members in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in June 1994, when seven residents were killed.
The trial has dragged on as Tsuchiya has dismissed his lawyers twice since it began in 1995. He refused to enter a plea or answer questions in court, insisting on speaking only at the trial of Asahara, who is being tried separately in the same court.
In the last session in January, however, he began to speak up and indicated that he would fight prosecutors' charges.
AUM Shinrikyo, the doomsday cult responsible for the 1995 deadly gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, is getting women to use controversial Internet matchmaking sites to lure new men into the group, the Mainichi has learned. Amorous AUM members from the cult's Nagoya base apparently pretend to be interested in meeting men's desires for female companionship, but instead use their seduction to get the men into the cult. Aichi police's public safety officials say the cult has been using the lecherous lures since it began something of a comeback in the autumn of 2001. They are unaware of how many men the AUM sirens have lured into their clutches.
AUM vehemently denies the allegations. "It's true AUM uses its website and the writings of leader (Fumihiro) Joyu to put forth news about its activities, but the group does not use matchmaking sites to secure new members, nor are believers instructed to do so," cult mouthpiece Hiroshi Araki said.
Police quoted a recent example of a man who used his mobile phone to respond to a message posted in a matchmaking site by a woman saying that she was lonely and wanted somebody to talk to.
The woman replied and agreed to meet him. When he turned up at the appointed time, there were two women waiting for him.
The three went to a nearby cafe, where the women told him they were about to head off to a yoga class and invited him to join them.
The man went to the class, discovered that he enjoyed yoga and became a regular. The woman he originally contacted through the matchmaking site approached him and asked if he would like to meet Joyu.
Shocked - Joyu was a fixture on Japanese TV until his arrest in 1995 as he vehemently denied AUM involvement in the deadly subway gassing - the man back off, only to relent when the woman told him that she felt an introduction to Joyu would allow him to study yoga at a more advanced level.
He was taken to a monthly meeting where the cult leader read sutras. He began attending these meetings without fail and became a member of the cult. He soon developed doubts about the authenticity of AUM's teachings, however, and left the group.
AUM members have been convicted for several crimes in addition to the subway attack. Several members sit on Death Row while cult guru Shoko Asahara is in the Tokyo Detention Center while his murder trial continues.
The Mito District Court On Wednesday ordered the Mito city government to pay a total of 600,000 yen to two members of the Aum Supreme Truth cult for rejecting their applications to register as residents in December 2001.
The 36-year-old and 54-year-old male cultists had filed a lawsuit demanding 2 million yen in compensation.
Handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Hidemi Senba said the two were emotionally distressed because their application to register as residents was illegally rejected despite their living in the city.
According to the ruling, the two had difficulty leading their lives as they were not able to register their personal seals or renew their driver's licenses because of the rejection by the city government.
Prosecutors on Wednesday demanded the death penalty for a former senior member of the Aum Supreme Truth cult for his alleged involvement in a series of murders committed by the doomsday cult, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.
Tomomasa Nakagawa, 40, the "doctor" of Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto, 47, also known as Shoko Asahara, is being tried at the Tokyo District Court on 11 charges, including murder and attempted murder.
Nakagawa has pleaded not guilty, saying he did not know what purpose the sarin nerve gas would be used for in the subway attack.
Prosecutors said Nakagawa played a central role in the attack as a close aide to Matsumoto and was involved in most of the criminal acts committed by the cult.
Prosecutors detailed how Nakagawa allegedly developed the deadly gas with another former senior Aum member, Seiichi Endo, 42, who has appealed his conviction on charges of murder and attempted murder in five cases to a higher court after being sentenced to death in October.
Regarding the June 1994 sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, prosecutors said it was clear that Nakagawa was well aware of how lethal the gas was, although he claimed sarin was not necessarily fatal.
Prosecutors said Nakagawa was trying to mislead the court by skillfully repeating lies.
The doomsday cult accused in the deadly 1995 Tokyo subway gas attack is still considered a threat and must remain under police surveillance for at least three more years, Japanese authorities said Thursday.
The current three-year surveillance of Aum Shinrikyo, whose leaders were held responsible for killing 12 people and injuring thousands in the attack, expires Jan. 31.
The sect's dangerous beliefs and anti-social behavior have remained unchanged despite the convictions of its leaders for the crimes, said the Public Security Examination Commission.
Group founder Chizuo Matsumoto, who goes by the name Shoko Asahara, is still on trial for allegedly masterminding the subway attack as well as other killings and assaults.
"Members continue to follow Matsumoto as the absolute religious leader, and his influence over the group has never changed," said Kozo Fujita, who heads the commission. "The sect has a potential danger of repeating similar mass killings in the future. We must continue monitoring its activities."
The cult has regrouped under a new name, Aleph, with about 1,000 members.
Nearly a dozen members of the group have been sentenced to death for the subway gassing and other crimes. None has yet been executed.
The cult's new leader, Fumihiro Joyu, said he planned to file a lawsuit demanding the court invalidate the surveillance extension.
The Public Security Examination Commission has decided to keep the Aum Shinrikyo cult under surveillance for another three years, sources said.
The Public Security Investigation Agency has asked the commission to extend the surveillance period beyond Jan. 31, when the current surveillance authority lapses. It believes that the cult, which launched a fatal gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, is still a threat to the public and is capable of indiscriminate mass murder.
The commission is headed by Kozo Fujita, a former Hiroshima High Court president. It is discussing in detail its decision and is expected to make a formal decision as early as Monday. The decision will be announced in the government gazette at the end of January.
The cult, renamed Aleph in January 2000, is considered likely to file a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court demanding a revocation of the extension if it is made official.
The Public Security Investigation Agency asked the security commission on Dec. 2 for permission to extend the surveillance.
The agency argued that Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto, accused of masterminding the sarin gas attack on the subway system and currently jailed while on trial, still wields power over the cult and can order indiscriminate mass killings.
Aleph is currently headed by Fumihiro Joyu, a former senior Aum official.
The agency also argued that high-ranking cultists, including Joyu, who were senior members at the time of the subway attack, are still active. It added that Aum advocated a secret doctrine ordering followers to kill.
Acting under the current surveillance authority, the agency has kept 88 Aum facilities in 16 prefectures under watch since February 2000. It has submitted some 400 pieces of evidence to support its belief that the sect remains a threat.
Aleph filed a petition on Dec. 24 with the security commission asking it to reject the surveillance extension. On Jan. 8, Joyu met with members of the security commission at the Justice Ministry in a closed hearing and argued that his group no longer poses the threat of mass killings.
In making its case, the group said it has taken steps to prevent a repeat of such an attack and the surveillance has outlived its usefulness.
Matsumoto, 47, is commonly known as Shoko Asahara. He has been on trial since April 1996 for his role in the March 20, 1995, subway attack that left 12 people dead and thousands injured, as well as for other crimes attributed to Aum. He denies the charges.
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