The leader of cult movement Aum Shinrikyo, Shoko Asahara, and six of his followers were executed on Friday. On March 20, 1995, five members of Aum Shinrikyo sect launched a chemical attack on the Tokyo subway, one of the world's busiest commuter transport systems, at the peak of the morning rush hour. The attack had killed 13 people and injured thousands more.
Asahara was on the death row for more than a decade over the attack. The hangings are the first executions in connection with the nerve agent attack.
Shoko Asahara was already under the radar on Japanese agencies when the aatck was carried out. The illegal activities of his cult, Aum Shinrikyo, had become a big problem for Japan's law enforcement agencies in the 90s and the crackdown had already begun.
Asahara was aware of a police raid scheduled for March 22, 1995, and had planned the Tokyo subway attack in order to hinder police investigations into the cult and perhaps to spark the global apocalypse. In five coordinated attacks, the perpetrators released sarin on three lines of the Tokyo Metro during rush hour.
The attack prompted a massive crackdown on the cult's headquarters and the arrest of Asahara and other group members. He was sentenced to death after a lengthy prosecution during which he regularly delivered rambling and incoherent monologues in English and Japanese. The hangings today are the largest simultaneous execution in Japan since 1911, when 11 people were hanged for plotting to assassinate the emperor, said an AFP report.
Aum Shinrikyo cult:
Aum Shinrikyo was a religious movement and doomsday cult led by Shoko Asahara. The group believed in a doctrine revolving around a syncretic mixture of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Christian and Hindu beliefs, especially relating to the Hindu god Shiva.
They believed that Armageddon is inevitable in the form of a global war involving the United States and Japan; that non-members were doomed to eternal hell, but that they could be saved if they were killed by cult members; and that only members of the cult would survive the apocalypse, and would afterwards build the Kingdom of Shambhala.
Its founder, Chizuo Matsumoto, claimed that he sought to restore "original Buddhism". In 1992, Matsumoto, who had changed his name to Shoko Asahara, published a foundational book, declaring himself to be "Christ", Japan's only fully enlightened master, as well as identifying himself as the "Lamb of God".
The cult started attracting controversy in the late 1980s with accusations of deception of recruits, and of holding cult members against their will and forcing members to donate money; it murdered a cult member who tried to leave in February 1989.
The cult is known to have considered assassinations of several individuals critical of the cult, such as the heads of Buddhist sects Soka Gakkai and The Institute for Research in Human Happiness. After cartoonist Yoshinori Kobayashi began satirizing the cult, he was included on Aum's assassination list; it attempted to assassinate Kobayashi in 1993.
At the end of 1993, the cult started secretly manufacturing the nerve agent sarin and later VX gas. They also attempted to manufacture 1,000 automatic rifles but only managed to make one.
Tokyo subway sarin attack:
On the morning of 20 March 1995, Aum members released sarin in a coordinated attack on five trains in the Tokyo subway system, killing 13 commuters, seriously injuring 54 and affecting 980 more. Some estimates claim as many as 6,000 people were injured by the sarin.
The attack during the capital's notoriously crowded rush hour paralysed the Japanese capital, turning it into a virtual warzone. Injured people began staggering out of the underground struggling for breath, with watering eyes as the attack unfolded. Others keeled over, foaming at the mouth, with blood streaming from their noses. The sarin had been released in liquid form on five subway carriages at different points throughout the network. The first sign of it was a smell similar to paint thinner, but soon commuters began cough uncontrollably, recalled Sakae Ito, who was on the crowded Hibiya line that day.
Prosecutors allege that Asahara was tipped off about planned police raids on cult facilities by an insider, and ordered an attack in central Tokyo to divert police attention away from the group. The attack evidently backfired, and police conducted huge simultaneous raids on cult compounds across the country.
On May 16, 1995, the police corps investigated the headquarters of Aum Shinrikyo. Asahara was discovered in a very small, isolated room in one of the facilities.
Shoko Asahara faced 27 counts of murder in 13 separate indictments. The prosecution argued that Asahara gave orders to attack the Tokyo Subway in order to "overthrow the government and install himself in the position of Emperor of Japan". Several years later, the prosecution forwarded an additional theory that the attacks were ordered to divert police attention away from Aum.
The prosecution also accused Asahara of masterminding the Matsumoto incident and the Sakamoto family murder. According to Asahara's defense team, a group of senior followers initiated the atrocities and kept them a secret from Asahara.
During the trials, some of the disciples testified against Asahara, and he was found guilty on 13 of 17 charges, including the Sakamoto family murder; four charges were dropped. On February 27, 2004, he was sentenced to death by hanging.
The defense appealed Asahara's sentencing on the grounds that he was mentally unfit, and psychiatric examinations were undertaken. During the examinations, Asahara never spoke. However, he communicated with the staff at his detention facility, which convinced the examiner that Asahara was maintaining his silence out of free will. Because his lawyers never submitted the statement of reason for appeal, the Tokyo High Court decided on March 27, 2006 not to grant them leave to appeal. This decision was upheld by the Supreme Court of Japan on September 15, 2006. Two re-trial appeals were declined by the appellate court.
OneIndia News with PTI inputs