Aum Shinri-kyo and Related Controversies
TOKYO - The AUM Shinrikyo religious group, accused of being responsible for the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack, has started a software development firm and resumed ties with followers in Russia, AUM members said Tuesday.
About 40 AUM members are involved in software development and 21 of them financed the capital to form the firm in Tokyo in late August, the members made the announcement at a news conference at its facility in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward. The company began full-scale operations this month, they said.
According to the members, profits from the firm will be used to pay compensation to victims of crimes involving the group.
In response, public security officials said they are keeping a close watch over new or assertive moves the group is making to gain new funds and followers.
Last year, a group of AUM-related firms, which had virtually halted its operations, was found to have received contracts to develop computer systems for government departments and major firms.
This month, Tokyo police arrested an AUM member on suspicion of breach of trust for stealing banking data from a firm which developed a computer system for a major financial group.
Also, the AUM members said they have resumed ties with AUM followers in Russia, with whom they had halted ties since the 1995 sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway system.
Three to four of its followers in Japan regularly interact with about 200 AUM followers in Russia who are mainly based in Moscow, the members said.
Also on Tuesday, the Tokyo High Court said it will hand down a ruling Jan.
29 to former AUM member Koichi Kitamura, 33, who has appealed the Tokyo District Court's life sentence. He was charged with murder for his role in the subway attack as a driver of the AUM group.
AUM founder Shoko Asahara and a number of other members of AUM, now calling itself Aleph, have been tried for the subway attack in which 12 were killed and thousands injured, as well as a number of other crimes.
Twelve people died in the gas attack Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult, which was behind the deadly 1995 Tokyo subway gas attack, says it has set up a computer business to compensate its victims.
Twelve people died and more than 5,000 were injured when Aum members released sarin gas during morning rush hour.
The cult, which has changed its name to Aleph - the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet - says it is now a benign religious group.
On Tuesday, the group said 21 followers had set up a software company in Tokyo in August and planned to start operations this month.
"By running a company, we hope to boost our efforts in raising funds to compensate our victims," Aum said in a statement.
Before it renounced violence, Aum Shinrikyo earned millions of dollars from computer companies. Police investigations following the 1995 attack revealed the group had supplied software to the police and defence agencies as well as a number of prominent Japanese companies.
Several cult members have been sentenced to hang for their part in the subway attack.
Cult founder Shoko Asahara is in jail
Aum founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, has been in custody since May 1995 while his trial on multiple charges, including murder and masterminding the subway attack, continues.
In December 1999 the group admitted its role in the gassing. Since then it has paid $2.45m (303.5 million yen) in compensation to its victims, said Tuesday's statement.
The group also said it was working to help the victims of the 11 September terror attacks in New York and Washington.
"We are urging our followers and former followers to cooperate and do their utmost in donating money and relief products", the statement said.
Survivors and bereaved families of victims of AUM Shinrikyo's terrorist attacks urged a court Wednesday not to suspend the trial of cult founder Shoko Asahara for a year.
"I can't allow the trial to be further delayed because we are hoping that it will proceed as quickly as possible," said Shizue Takahashi, whose subway employee husband died in the cult's gassing of subway lines in 1995.
Takahashi said that a one-year suspension, requested last month by Asahara's lawyers for preparations to counter numerous charges including murder and attempted murder, "would be too hard on us."
After the lawyers lodged the request with the Tokyo District Court, the survivors and bereaved families jointly submitted their demand in a letter to Presiding Judge Fumihiro Abe.
More than five years have passed since Asahara was indicted on charges of masterminding numerous assaults, including the March 1995 sarin gas attacks on Tokyo subway trains that left 12 dead, and the murder of anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, his wife and their young son in 1989.
At the Pentagon memorial service last month, President Bush called the al-Qa'eda network "a cult of evil," and for the first time, I thought: "Yes, that sounds right." It is a kind of cult, and Osama bin Laden - far from being the Muslim world's Che Guevara, is its evil and manipulative guru.There has been a great deal of semantic confusion about who, precisely, our enemy is. Bin Laden has succeeded in linking his lunatic cause with a broader sense of anger and frustration that persists in the Muslim world. We cannot allow him to maintain that link.
The enemy of this particular war is not Islam, and it isn't the Muslim world, for very few Muslims, regardless of their policy grievances, would die for the sake of killing our children.
Two years ago, the eminent American psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton wrote a book about cults called Destroying the World to Save It, documenting what he called a "loosely connected, still-developing global subculture of apocalyptic violence."
Lifton, who has also written about Nazi doctors and the psychology of totalitarianism, focused his analysis on the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan, which released sarin gas into the Tokyo subway in 1995, killing a dozen people.
Why? Why indeed. Aum Shinrikyo built a rationale for mass murder on a "global stew" of New Age religion, ancient rituals and science fiction. Lifton was fascinated by how ordinary people could be persuaded to engage in extraordinary horrors.
In Aum Shinrikyo's ranks one found doctors, research scientists and other members of the Japanese professional classes - not unlike the demographics of the Rajneeshee cult in Oregon, whose members laced salad bars with salmonella bacteria in 1984, or the members of Jonestown who committed mass suicide in 1978.
People do not need to be impoverished or brutalized to transform themselves into apocalyptic warriors. In Aum Shinrikyo, members appear to have come together out of vague spiritual or social malaise and then fallen under the charismatic spell of Aum's guru, Shoko Asahara. Over time, and a great deal of brainwashing, they developed a "collective megalomania" that culminated in the subway attack.
Reading profiles of the Sept. 11 hijackers, one glimpses a similarly disturbing ordinariness. The hijackers were not traumatized victims of American foreign policy; nor did they spring from deeply orthodox Muslim families. Some drank; some had Western girlfriends; Mohamed Atta's sisters are a doctor and a zoology professor.
Understanding al-Qa'eda purely in the context of Islamic fundamentalism is unsatisfactory. It leaves something out, some process of psychological transformation for the individual members.
Consider, by contrast, the suicide bomber who assassinated Indian President Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 - a Tamil woman who reportedly had been raped by Indian soldiers during the Sri Lankan occupation. Her quest for justice took a terrible route, but one can at least discern a connection between personal trauma and revenge.
Curious about the cult analogy, I called Steve Hassan, formerly a high-ranking member of the Unification Church, also known as the "Moonies," and now a leading expert on mind control. We talked about the fact that many of these hijackers were reportedly leading a normal life when, after coming into contact with certain Islamic groups - on a university campus in Hamburg, Germany, for instance - they suddenly turned inward, becoming secretive and aloof. That rang very loud bells for Hassan, who fell in with the Moonies on a New England college campus in 1974 after befriending three "attractive young women" who encouraged him to come to meetings.
"There's a big difference between a personality change as a result of religious epiphany and a personality change as a result of a systematic social influence," he says. "I did not realize that I was being manipulated. (But) by the end of 3 days, I was blown away. My parents said I looked like I was on drugs.
"I had been taught that the world was facing Armageddon and that God had chosen me, and that Satan would work through the people I loved to try to talk me out of it. I was indoctrinated into distrusting my own thought processes and into believing that killing people was for their own good."
Hassan observes that many of the techniques that he encountered with the Moonies are evident in bin Laden's camps: "social isolation, controlling their sleep, showing them non-stop videos of Muslims dying, being buddied up, so that they're never alone. ... Destructive mind control strips away their ability to think for themselves."
The cult framework goes a little way to explaining the dissonance between who these hijackers were and what they eventually did on behalf of al-Qa'eda.
My sense of this was confirmed by John R. Hall, the co-author of Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe and Japan.
"There are two kinds of apocalyptic sects," he told me. "One kind engages in a withdrawal from society at large to another world, which they establish as a utopian heaven on earth." Most American cults fall into this category, Hall says, although they resort to violence if they feel threatened.
"The other kind of apocalyptic group," he says, "is the warring sect. It seeks to bring on the final battle of Armageddon by launching a holy war against the existing social order. Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'eda is definitely of the latter type; indeed, it is a classic case."
Many pundits are saying that the eradication of bin Laden will be fruitless unless certain "underlying causes" in the friction between East and West are addressed. But that presumes a rational stance in modern terrorism, and there is none.
America needs to get across to the Muslim world this absolutely essential fact: Bin Laden is not championing their cause or proposing to lead them to a better future. He wants to destroy the world, and that can be no sane man's cause.
WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The U.S. administration on Friday added 22 groups, including Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult, to a list of foreign terrorist organizations whose assets in the United States have been frozen. "Listing these organizations under the Sept. 24 terrorist financing executive order underscores the administration's objectives to disrupt the financial base of terrorists," the Treasury Department said in a statement.
The executive order, signed by President George W. Bush, enabled the administration to freeze the assets of designated terrorist groups in the U.S.
The administration can also freeze assets or close branches if foreign financial institutions operating in the U.S. do not comply with the executive order.
The 22 entities include the Real IRA, an offshoot of the Irish Republican Army, and Islamic fundamentalist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah in addition to Aum, which carried out a fatal sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995.
The 22 are all on a list of 28 foreign terrorist organizations issued Oct. 5 by the State Department.
Six entities, including the al-Qaeda network led by Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., had already been subject to the asset freeze.
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