Journal links guru to sarin

POLICE have drawn a direct link between Aum Shinri Kyo leader Shoko Asahara and nerve-gas attacks on the Tokyo subway. A warrant has been prepared for his arrest.

Police said that Asahara, who disappeared after the March 20 attacks, had ordered the production of sarin nerve-gas last summer.

A journal seized by police from the sect's Mount Fuji compound describes how Asahara warned his followers to take care in the production of sarin.

The journal, kept by members of Aum's 'science and technology ministry', quoted Asahara as saying: 'Making sarin is a very hazardous undertaking. When carrying this out, you need much courage.' Police refused to comment on the report.

Raids on Aum properties over the past four weeks have seized tonnes of dangerous chemicals.

But the journal provides the first direct link between the chemicals and Asahara and the strongest evidence yet connecting him to the sarin attacks which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,500.

Documents taken from the compound also indicate Asahara ordered followers to catch and confine a defector from the sect, The Daily Yomiuri reported. Two sect members have been arrested on suspicion of confining a 25-year-old who tried to leave.

Kyodo news agency, citing police sources, said Aum tried to arm itself with guns and tanks through 'Russian connections'.

The sect's 'construction minister' visited Russia several times to explore weapons purchases. Police regard the man, who was not named, as Asahara's deputy.

Kyodo said the 'construction minister' helped buy a Russian helicopter last June for US$950,000 (about $HK7.34 million).

Russian President Boris Yeltsin has ordered a full investigation into the activities of Aum, which claims 30,000 members in Russia.

Sect spokesman Fumihiro Joyu said police action over the past four weeks - including continuous raids on the sect's compound, seizure of chemicals, and the removal of children - was 'completely illegal'.

'I think this should not be repeated, and this should be severely criticised by all sections of society,' he said.

'I don't know what they are trying to do, but what they are doing will result in nothing but religious persecution. In other words, destruction of our religious community,' said the Aum spokesman.

Independent lawyer Ishizumi Janji said police had gone beyond the boundaries of due process in the course of their investigation by seizing property without a warrant and arresting more than 100 members.

'I think the police and public prosecutors will have a very difficult time in court when Aum members are indicted,' he said.

Aum lawyer Yoshinobu Aoyama warned yesterday that the cult was considering taking legal action in response to the police round-up of 53 sect children.

Denouncing the police move as an 'illegal abduction', Mr Aoyama promised a lawsuit could be filed against the head of the Government's juvenile welfare institution.

Police spokesmen denied the lawyer's allegations, saying the authorities were completely within their rights to take the children into protective custody.

Mr Aoyama also said that the children of sect members had not been victims of either unsanitary conditions or malnourishment, as was widely reported.

But a news conference attended by five of the children, was told they had not taken baths regularly or changed clothes often.

When the children were taken into custody, most were wearing head gear with protruding electrodes, devices reportedly used by Aum followers to keep them on the same mental wavelength as Asahara.