Japan Executes Cult Leader, Six Members

Pauline Gross
July 8, 2018

Asahara and five of the six executed were implicated in the subway attack, which occured during the morning rush hour of March 20, 1995 when members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult punctured plastic bags to release sarin nerve gas inside subway cars, killing 13 people and sickening more than 6,000.

The Sarin attack, Japan's worst terror incident, killed 13 people and injured thousands more.

The attack shocked Japan, which prides itself on low crime rates and its multicultural society.

Justice Minister Kamikawa did not explain why the executions were carried out on Friday or how the six individuals hanged alongside the cult leader were chosen, stating only that "the members' death penalties were finalized after plenty of deliberation in court".

In this picture taken on July 19, 1995, Shoko Asahara (C), head of the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, is transferred from Tokyo police headquarters to Tokyo District Court for questioning.

Fumihiro Joyu, who served as the spokesman for Aum Shinrikyo but has distanced himself from Asahara in the last decade, told reporters that he was relieved.

Matsumoto, 63, was sentenced to death in 2004, but was only cleared for execution in January this year following years of complex legal proceedings.

The religion persists and has since split into the renamed Aleph and Hikari no Wa groups.

At the end of 1993, the cult started secretly manufacturing the nerve agent sarin and later VX gas.

Born Chizuo Matsumoto in 1955 on the south-western island of Kyushu, Asahara changed his name in the 1980s, when the Aum cult was being developed.

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As the cult's following grew, which included highly educated scientists and engineers, stories began circulating about brainwashing and abuse within Aum Shinrikyo.

He said that more than 10 years after he left the cult, he had "no special feeling" for Asahara, but had still been somewhat nervous about the potential repercussions for criticizing him in public. At its peak, Aum had tens of thousands of followers, mostly in Japan and Russian Federation.

Founded in 1984, the cult attracted many young people, even graduates of top universities, whom Asahara hand-picked as close aides.

Some people argue that Aum Shinrikyo and spinoff cults remain unsafe, so its imprisoned members should be kept alive and grilled for information. After the 1995 attack and arrests, the much-reduced cult went underground and eventually reimerged as a spinoff group called Adelph.

The police and the Public Security Intelligence Agency are gathering intelligence and closely monitoring followers who could possibly attempt to retrieve the bodies of Asahara and the six others.

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.

Rights group Amnesty International said justice demanded accountability but also respect for civil rights.

The reports say Asahara and some of his followers were hanged Friday.

The reasons behind the sarin gas attack remain an enigma.

Other reports by GizPress

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