Colombo puts sect branch under scrutiny
THE National Intelligence Bureau in Colombo has started investigating the activities of the Sri Lanka branch of the Aum Shinri Kyo sect.
Japanese authorities have told Sri Lanka's Government the sect despatched large quantities of chemicals, including substances needed to produce the nerve gas sarin, to its branch based in the southern coastal township of Galle.
Two key ingredients of sarin found at the cult's branch were sodium fluoride and phosphorous trichloride. Chemicals, both liquids and powders, were seized by police, who had called in experts from the army's anti-chemical unit to help in their investigations, sources said.
Investigators said the Galle branch owned rice paddies as well as a tea plantation and a tea factory in the southern district.
Local cult members had strongly denied the chemicals had been imported for any subversive activities and maintained they had been brought in to manufacture fertiliser for the sect's rice paddies.
Authorities remained tight-lipped about the presence of the sect's local branch organisation.
But sources said the presence of military chemical experts has left no doubts that investigators were looking for evidence in the Tokyo nerve gas attack case.
Government sources said that Shoko Asahara, the cult's supreme leader, had visited Sri Lanka a few months ago.
Business circles confirmed that the sect had been marketing its low-grown Sri Lanka teas in Japan under the brand name 'Aum'.
Security sources said that several Sri Lankan cult members who had returned recently from Japan were being questioned by investigators.
Sri Lanka's National Intelligence Bureau has informed its counterparts in Tokyo that several other local members were still in various parts of Japan.
Police had not made any formal arrests yesterday. But sources said they detained five sect followers who were being questioned at the National Intelligence Bureau headquarters in Colombo.
Police said members of the local sect had been under surveillance earlier for suspected narcotics trafficking on an international scale.
Security sources said Japanese police were investigating the activities of several Aum Shinri Kyo branches established in foreign countries, with the assistance of Interpol. They said that at least 14 cult members had been arrested in several Asian countries on charges of manslaughter, abduction and use of illegal drugs.