image

Japan

Japan executes last 6 members of cult behind deadly sarin attack on Tokyo subways

Thursday’s executions come after authorities hanged “guru” Shoko Asahara and six of his one-time followers earlier this month, after years on death row

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 9:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 10:20pm

The last six members of a Japanese doomsday cult who remained on death row were executed Thursday for a series of crimes in the 1990s including a sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people.

Thirteen members of the group had received death sentences. The first seven, including cult leader Shoko Asahara, were hanged about three weeks ago.

Japan has never executed so many people in one month, Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said. She called their crimes unprecedentedly heinous and said they should never be repeated.

My memories of how Tokyo subway sarin attack spread terror one day in March 1995

The cult, which envisioned overthrowing the government, amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown.

Named Aum Shinrikyo, or Supreme Truth, it was blamed for 27 deaths before authorities raided its compound near Mount Fuji in 1995 and captured Asahara nearly two months later.

The group’s most notorious crime was the March 20, 1995, subway attack that sickened 6,000 people and sowed panic during the morning commute. The attack woke up a relatively safe country to the risk of urban terrorism.

Cult members used umbrellas to puncture plastic bags, releasing sarin, a deadly nerve agent, inside subway cars just as the trains approached the Kasumigaseki station, Japan’s main government district. Commuters poured out of stations, and the streets were soon filled with troops in Hazmat suits and people being treated outside.

Kamikawa said it was a terrorist attack that terrified people even outside Japan.

The six – Satoru Hashimoto, Toru Toyoda, Kenichi Hirose, Yasuo Hayashi, Masato Yokoyama and Kazuaki Okazaki – were convicted of involvement in one or more of three crimes – the 1995 sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, another sarin attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, and the murders of a lawyer, his wife and their baby son in 1989.

The executions were announced only after they had happened, as is the practice in Japan.

Asahara, whose original name was Chizuo Matsumoto, founded Aum Shinrikyo in 1984. The bearded, self-proclaimed guru recruited scientists and others to his cult, attracting people who were disillusioned with a modern, materialistic lifestyle.

During an eight-year trial, he talked incoherently, occasionally babbling in broken English, and never acknowledged his responsibility or offered meaningful explanations.

The cult once claimed 10,000 members in Japan and 30,000 in Russia. It has disbanded, though nearly 2,000 people follow its rituals in three splinter groups, monitored by authorities.

Additional reporting by Kyodo