Reuters, Dec. 2, 2002
TOKYO – A Japanese government security agency sought authorization on Monday to continue its close surveillance of a doomsday cult blamed for a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo underground railway system in 1995.
The Public Security Investigation Agency called for a three-year extension of its monitoring activity, saying the Aum Supreme Truth cult still posed a threat to the public.
“The (current) three-year surveillance period ends at the end of January so we have filed for an extension,” said a spokesman for the agency, which is affiliated to the Justice Ministry and investigates organizations that are a danger to the public.
In its filing, the agency said that Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto still wielded influence over the cult.
Matsumoto is the real name of Shoko Asahara, who has been on trial since April 1996 for 13 crimes, including planning and ordering the deadly attack on the subway that killed 12 people and made thousands ill.
An extension would allow agency officials to continue to conduct inspections of Aum premises, and the cult would have to disclose information on its property, leaders and membership.
The agency spokesman said the filing also cited the fact that cult members who were senior members at the time of the attack were still active, plus the existence of a cult doctrine that hinted at or clearly encouraged murder.
The Public Security Examination Commission, which received the filing, is expected to decide by the end of January whether or not to grant the extension, he said.
Kyodo news agency said the cult planned to file a lawsuit demanding revocation of the extension if one were to be granted. The cult, which has changed its name to Aleph — the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet — says it is now a benign religious group.
But the government said last March that the cult, which in the past preached that the world was coming to an end and that it had to arm itself to prepare for calamities, was still dangerous.
A number of cult members have already been sentenced to death for the 1995 attack.
According to the annual report of the Public Security Investigation Agency released in March, the number of cult followers living in cult property at the end of last year was around 650, and in addition there were some 1,000 “lay members.” The cult numbered 12,000 members before the 1995 attack.