Police search compound with murder investigation warrants
TOKYO — Police returned yesterday to the main compound of a secretive doomsday cult, this time officially looking for evidence linking the group to a deadly nerve-gas attack on the crowded Tokyo subway. The search continued today, but few details were released.
Hundreds of police armed with a warrant specifying they were investigating murders searched laboratories and storage areas for nine hours, seizing papers and chemicals.
Early today, the Washington Post reported that media and the public have begun criticizing the police response to the attack last Monday on the subway. Among them was the handling of a case last June in which seven people were killed in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto. In that case, as in the subway, the deaths were caused by a rare World War II-vintage nerve gas, sarin.
The police — and the news media — focused on a man who is now generally considered innocent, and consequently did not move against the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, despite complaints from people in Matsumoto and evidence suggesting that the sect had made sarin gas at its retreat near Mount Fuji.
Sometime after the Matsumoto poisonings, according to media reports, police discovered that a nearby branch of the Aum sect had a warehouse filled with large quantities of chemicals — including those used to make sarin. There are no indications that the authorities acted on this information.
Questions also are being raised about how the police responded to various warnings that the same poison gas might be used in an attack on public facilities in Tokyo.
The police raid Wednesday was officially linked to the investigation of the attack March 20 on the morning rush-hour subway, which killed 10 people and left 5,000 others with symptoms such as seizures and temporary blindness.
Police have told Japanese newspapers that the cult’s chemical stockpiles could yield enough sarin to kill millions if used in an urban center. The estimates are vague, but give an indication of the potency of vapors from sarin, one tiny droplet of which can kill in seconds just by being inhaled or touching the skin.