Famous dancer held as police swoop in fresh raids on cult

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 May, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 May, 1995, 12:00am

TOKYO: Police suddenly resumed widespread raids yesterday on a doomsday cult linked to Tokyo's subway gas attack, arresting a well-known dancer and seeking other high-profile members of the sect.

In what appeared to be a move to reassure Japanese about their safety as they headed into one of the country's most popular holiday periods, police swooped on 11 facilities owned by Aum Shinri Kyo.

Television showed live coverage of the arrest of Tomoko Kashima, 44, once the toast of Tokyo for her lead roles in a number of Western-style dance shows.

Kashima, like about 100 other Aum members arrested so far, was not detained on charges directly linked to the March 20 sarin gas attack in which 12 people died and 5,500 were injured.

Police said Kashima was arrested in her sect-owned apartment on suspicion of kidnapping her 19-year-old daughter when she refused to join her mother in the cult.

Kashima was one of Japan's best-known dancers in the 1970s for her scantily clad chorus-girl roles which made her a favourite with theatre and television audiences.

The dancer joined the sect in 1989 shortly after making a 'miracle' comeback from a spine injury suffered in a snowmobile accident. At the time she attributed her comeback to the sect's mysterious healing powers and training.

After joining it, she aggressively led publicity campaigns to persuade people to join the cult and since the March 20 attack has strongly defended it.

Another prime target of the raids, the first for 10 days and the most extensive since a crackdown in the days after the attack, was Aum's chief spokesman Fumihiro Joyu, 32.

Japanese magazines have reported that the boyish-looking Joyu has become an idol of some teenagers with his almost-daily appearances on television to defend the sect.

But Joyu was not found when police, also in the glare of live television, raided the sect's Tokyo headquarters where he operates.

Police also hope the raids may give them clues to the whereabouts of sect founder Shoko Asahara, in hiding since two days before the March 20 poison gas attack.

In raids over the past six weeks, police have found all the ingredients needed to make sarin at Aum facilities but they are still searching for conclusive proof that the cult was involved.

To allay public anxiety ahead of a five-day holiday period starting today known as 'Golden Week', 60,000 police officers have been mobilised to guard airports, railway stations and bus depots.