TOKYO — Police found more dangerous chemicals yesterday at the headquarters of a secretive religious cult and reportedly wanted to question its leader on suspicion of planning the gas attack on Tokyo’s subway.
It was the latest apparent link between the group Sublime Truth and Monday’s attack, which killed 10 people and injured nearly 5,000.
Although suspicion had fallen almost immediately on the apocalyptic Buddhist sect, police used an unrelated kidnapping case as justification for nationwide raids Wednesday on the sect’s facilities.
Those searches continued yesterday. At the group’s rural headquarters, military poison-gas specialists used forklifts to remove piles of chemicals specialists said could be used to make sarin, the nerve gas used in the Tokyo attack.
Also found was chemical-synthesizing equipment, Kyodo News Service reported.
And bottles of chemicals were found in a cult-owned car that crashed after a chase with police in western Japan. The driver was arrested and a military squad dispatched to neutralize the chemicals.
In a broadcast yesterday to followers in Russia, cult leader Shoko Asahara, who dropped out of sight after the attack, denied police had found sarin ingredients.
The sect’s lawyer said the chemicals were to be used to process semiconductors at a computer assembly plant the group runs.
Police would not comment on reports they plan to question Asahara on suspicion of plotting mass murder. Asahara, 40, a bearded, guru-like figure, had warned his followers the day before the subway attack to prepare for death.
The lawyer said Asahara would be willing to answer police questions, but refused to disclose his whereabouts.
In sect publications, Asahara has warned the world will end as soon as 1997, but asserted that up to 25 percent of the population will survive if they join his group.
More than 500 police wearing full protective gear and carrying caged canaries to detect gas took soil samples yesterday at a compound near Mount Fuji where they had found nerve-gas solvent the previous day.
They also began removing a 2-ton cache of chemicals in vats and drums.
Police said labels indicated some contained fluorine and organic phosphorous, both of which are needed to make sarin.
Police also said they found large amounts of isopropyl alcohol, a common household disinfectant also essential to at least one sarin manufacturing technique.
News reports said six sect members hospitalized Wednesday from the rural compound outside Kamikuishiki, 68 miles west of Tokyo, had been drugged.
Several hundred people remained hospitalized from the subway nerve gas attack, 52 of them in serious or critical condition.