Shoko Asahara: Leader of Japan’s apocalyptic cult executed 23 years after the attack on sarin in Tokyo

The cult leader Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, had been in prison for 22 years before his execution this week. The attack left more than a dozen people dead and thousands wounded.

Twelve other Aum Shinrikyo members were sentenced to death for their roles in the Tokyo attack. Asahara's death sentence was finalized in 2006, according to the public broadcaster NHK, but the trials of his conspirators continued for another 12 years.

Since those proceedings ended earlier this year, the days of Aum Shinrikyo's members had been numbered, even when opponents of the death penalty tried to block executions.

Asahara was one of the seven members of the cult hanged this week. The others are Tomomasa Nakagawa, Tomomitsu Niimi, Kiyohide Hayakawa, Yoshihiro Inoue, Seiichi Endo and Masami Tsuchiya, according to Japanese Justice Minister Yoko Kawakami.

Six more people are still sentenced to die in connection with the 1995 attack and other Aum Shinrikyo crimes. The date of their executions is unknown.

The executions in Japan are carried out in secret, without prior warning to the prisoner, his relatives or legal representatives, according to Amnesty International. Prisoners often only learn hours before they are killed.
  The executions in Japan are carried out secretly and without warnings to the prisoners & # 39; families or lawyers.

Shizue Takahashi, representative of the group of victims and widow of an employee of Toyko Metro who died in the attack with sarin, told reporters that she was "surprised" by the sudden execution.

"When I think of those who died because of them, it was a shame (my husband's parents) and my parents could not hear the news of this execution," he said. "I wanted (the members of the sect) to confess more about the incident, so it's a pity that we can no longer hear your account."

In a statement on Friday, Amnesty said the execution of Asahara and other members of Aum Shinrikyo would not do justice to the Tokyo attack.

"The attacks perpetrated by Aum were despicable and the perpetrators deserve to be punished, but the death penalty is never the answer," said Hiroka Shoji, Amnesty International's East Asia researcher.

"Justice demands responsibility, but also respect for the human rights of all, the death penalty can never fulfill this as it is the maximum denial of human rights."

  The photo shows the door of a Tokyo detention center on July 6, 2018, where Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was hanged for planning the sarin gas attack of 1995 on the subway system. Tokyo.

Beliefs of Judgment Day

Asahara founded Aum Shinrikyo in 1984 and quickly attracted thousands of disciples, combining predictions of a coming apocalypse – whi ch would come after the United States attacked Japan and converted it in a nuclear wasteland, with traditional religious teachings and new age tactics.

Many of Asahara's followers were highly educated scientists and engineers, who helped to contribute large amounts of money to the sect's chests.

As the cult grew, the families of the members began to raise the alarm, and complaints of brainwashing and abuse within Aum Shinrikyo became more common.

Despite this, few would have predicted what was to come, and the cult jumped to world fame with the March 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway, when members of Aum Shinrikyo threw sarin gas in full carriages of pbadengers during rush hour. The attack killed 13 people and wounded 5,500.

Asahara and dozens of his followers were arrested in the following months, after police raids across the country.

Mortal cult

Homicide of Aum Shinrikyo began in November 1989, when lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, who was working on a clbad action case against the cult, was brutally murdered along with his wife and her son. Death was eventually linked to the cult.

Prosecutors said the cult members entered Sakamoto's house while they were sleeping, injected them with lethal doses of potbadium chloride and strangled them.

The murder of Sakamoto and the growing clamor of members of the sect families caused more attention from the authorities, and Aum Shinrikyo began to prepare for the end.

On a sheep farm in rural western Australia and other properties, cult scientists began testing sarin, while others synthesized the nerve agent VX and launched a failed attempt to manufacture automatic rifles.
On June 27, 1994, seven people died and more than 500 were hospitalized after Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas from a truck as he slowly drove around an apartment complex in Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture. Another victim died in 2008.
  Photo taken on January 7, 1990 shows the founder of the cult group Aum Shinrikyo Shoko Asahara (fourth from the left) speaking at a press conference in Tokyo to announce a plan to present candidates for the general elections. [19659029] Photo taken on January 7, 1990 shows Aum Shinrikyo founder of the cult group Shoko Asahara (fourth from left) speaking at a press conference in Tokyo to announce a plan to present candidates for the general election.

Subway attack

Matsumoto's attack was a warm up for the main event, which began almost eight months later on March 20, 1995 , according to a report by the Federation of American Scientists. .

Five members of Aum Shinrikyo boarded subway cars on three different lines in downtown Tokyo during rush hour, carrying plastic bags filled with sarin. They punched the bags with the sharp tips of their umbrellas and left them in the luggage racks or on the floor to filter the deadly gas in the wagons.

The trains had to arrive at the Kasumigaseki central station four minutes from each other, and the cult not only expected to kill everyone on board, but also to use the trains to deliver the gas to a mbadive exchange used by thousands of people. pbadengers at the same time

Fortunately, the mistakes made in developing sarin and its method of delivery meant that the attack was much less effective than anticipated, and the group only managed to kill 12 and injured 5,500 people. Another victim died later.

According to the FAS report, chemical weapons experts estimate that "tens of thousands could easily have died" if the attack had been carried out correctly.

  Shizue Takahashi, whose husband was killed by the apocalyptic cult Aum Shinrikyo nervous gas attack sarin while on duty at the Kasumigaseki station of the Tokyo Metro attends a memorial on March 20, 2018 in Tokyo, Japan.

Arrest and trial

Dozens of members of Aum Shinrikyo were arrested after months of police raids in hundreds of locations throughout Japan.

Asahara himself was arrested in May 1995 and charged with 17 counts ranging from murders to illegal production of weapons and drugs.

His trial – and the appeals process – took years to complete, and he took over Japan, as the police continued to search for other cult members linked to the Tokyo and Matsumoto attacks.

At the end of 1996, Ashara admitted responsibility for the sarin attack, but said he did not personally participate in the crime, saying he had been "instructed by God" to bear the guilt. At the same time, he warned lawyers that they would die if they continued to interrogate the members of Aum Shinrikyo.

After a trial that lasted eight years, Asahara was found guilty of planning the attack and sentenced to death in 2004. In 2006, he had exhausted the appeals process.

His execution was delayed due to ongoing cases against his co-conspirators, the last of which was arrested in 2012.
Aum Shinrikyo parted ways with Hikari no Wa and Aleph in 2007, and the latter apologized for the Tokyo attack, blaming "the best members of Aum Shinrikyo." "The two groups have around 150 and 1,500 followers, respectively, according to the Japanese media.
The government surveillance of Hikari no Wa was lifted last year, but Aleph remains under official scrutiny.

James Griffiths reported from Hong Kong, Yoko Wakatsuki reported from Tokyo


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