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Asahara silently snatches air during gas attack trial • Thursday March 13, 2003

Mainichi Daily News (Japan), Mar. 13, 2003

Court questioning of Shoko Asahara, the AUM Shinrikyo cult guru indicted over the lethal gassing of Tokyo subways in 1995, began on Thursday with Asahara ignoring his lawyers’ questions and suddenly snatching at the air around him.

During the Tokyo District Court hearing, the 251st in the case against the guru, defending lawyers questioned Asahara, saying, “Can’t you tell us about what you were thinking and what your aims were?”

However, Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, remained silent, occasionally snatching at the air as if he was trying to catch something, then violently waving his arms in the air. The trial closed without him saying a word.

Earlier in the trial, which opened at 10 a.m., Presiding Judge Shoji Ogawa said to Asahara, “The questioning of the accused will begin this afternoon. You realize that don’t you?” and a defense lawyer tapped Asahara’s shoulder urging him to answer, but he gave no response.

Asahara is due to be questioned two more times. If he fails to respond on either occasion, prosecutors could demand a sentence against him as early as April 24.

The cult founder has remained mostly silent at his trials since he claimed during a hearing in April 1997 that he did not direct the gassing that cult members carried out. He is accused of crimes in 13 incidents, including the slaying of anti-AUM lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family.

Defense lawyers and court officials have had trouble cooperating with Asahara, who has continued to ignore their questions or mumble in an inaudible voice during hearings.

Several members of the AUM Shinrikyo cult, which is now calling itself Aleph, have already received death and prison sentences.

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