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Japan on alert after the execution of the founder of the doomsday cult

By Thomas Wilson

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan was on alert on Saturday amid fears that the executions of former leader and members of an apocalyptic cult following the deadly attack with sarin gas on the Tokyo subway in 1995 could trigger acts of reprisal by supporters or newly formed groups.

Japan hanged Shoko Asahara on Friday and six other members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which killed 13 people in an attack that shattered the country's myth about public safety.

Police and public safety The Kyodo news agency said on Friday they cited the warnings of a senior police official that Aum's followers were still active.

The agency said it sought 16 facilities belonging to three groups across Japan on Friday, including those of the formal successor to the cult and a splinter organization launched by a former Aum spokesperson, Kyodo said.

The executions led the national media to examine h Aum was able to recruit his followers, many of whom were young and highly educated, and if their ramifications or other newly formed groups could do the same.

The business newspaper Nikkei said in an editorial that Aum's influence remained and that the cults were still seeking to recruit young people.

"From the corners of the streets, the universities and the Internet world, cult groups aimed at young people have not disappeared," he said.

"Conditions for young people" people who fall into the darkness of Aum – isolation, dissatisfaction with the state and dissemination of extreme ideas – are actually becoming stronger. "

Others questioned the ability of cults or similar groups to recruit followers on the scale reached by Aum, much less achieve the level of organization and equipment needed to organize large attacks.

Aum, who mixed Buddhist and Hindu meditation with apocalyptic teachings, it had at least 10,000 members in Japan and abroad at its peak, including graduates from some of the country's top universities.

Hirohito Suzuki, professor of sociology at the Graduate School of Project Design at Tokyo said that a combination of increased surveillance of Aum's offspring and greater social awareness meant that it was now difficult for groups to obtain weapons or carry out military training.

People who identify with the cult or Asahara were more likely to launch attacks, he said.

"There is a possibility that people who sympathize with Asahara can launch violence in the cities, or near the stations, "said Suzuki. "It is very difficult for the authorities to control those lone wolf individuals"

(Report by Thomas Wilson, edited by Paul Tait)

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