Some 20 station workers held a moment of silence at Kasumigaseki Station in central Tokyo at 8 a.m., roughly the hour when the cult members planted and ruptured plastic bags containing sarin on rush-hour trains on March 20, 1995, terrorizing the entire nation.
Numerous government officials, including Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, victims and bereaved families visited flower stands set up at five stations along the Hibiya, Marunouchi and Chiyoda lines, which were targeted in the attack. It is believed the attack was aimed at disrupting planned police raids on the group’s headquarters at the time.
”The years feel very long,” said Shizue Takahashi, whose husband Kazumasa, 50, was killed after removing a bag of sarin as a senior official at Kasumigaseki Station, located at the heart of the government district.
Takahashi, 63, who has worked to build and improve the support system for crime victims over the years, said these efforts have finally paid off after a landmark law was enacted in 2008, providing financial support of up to 30 million yen to each AUM victim and bereaved families who were left without benefits for 13 years.
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Taking a break?
But she noted that while they have state benefits now, ”it does not mean (the cult‘s) responsibility to compensate is gone,” urging the cult to take responsibility.
AUM Shinrikyo was involved in a series of crimes, including the attack on the Tokyo subway system, and another sarin release in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in 1994, for which death sentences have been finalized for its founder Shoko Asahara, 55, and nine other cult members.
Meanwhile, three other members — Katsuya Takahashi, 51, Naoko Kikuchi, 38, and Makoto Hirata, 44 — still remain at large, prompting the police to post cash rewards totaling 6 million yen for information that would lead to their arrests.
The group, which had over 10,000 members at its height, has renamed itself Aleph and has some 1,300 members today, while the Circle of Rainbow Light, a breakaway faction founded in 2007, has about 200 members, according to the Public Security Intelligence Agency.
Although the sizes of the groups have not changed much over the last decade, police continue to monitor their moves as they are now actively recruiting younger generations who may not know about or remember the AUM crimes.
After the subway attack, the Aum cult renamed itself Aleph — after the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet — and deposed Asahara.
But authorities say hardcore followers still revere him and are actively recruiting younger generations who may not know about or remember the Aum crimes.
The group now has about 1,500 members in Japan, a third of whom live in compounds, and about 200 followers in Russia.
The cult was never outlawed in Japan, thanks to the country’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, although it was banned from teaching Asahara’s violent dogma and remains under close surveillance.