Sarin cult leader remains silent

TOKYO, Japan (AP) –Japanese doomsday guru Shoko Asahara sat silently as his team of 12 lawyers made their final arguments in his defense, wrapping up a 7 1/2-year trial Friday.

Asahara faces a possible death sentence for allegedly masterminding the deadly nerve gas “sarin” attack on Tokyo’s subways.

Concluding a two-day summary of their defense, the lawyers argued that Asahara had lost control over his disciples in the Aum Shinrikyo cult, and that they had acted on their own in carrying out the 1995 gassing.

Asahara, 48, was to be given a final chance to speak at the Tokyo District Court later Friday, his lawyers have said. So far, however, he has not chosen to do so, having kept mostly silent or occasionally burst into unintelligible ramblings.

The nearly blind defendant appeared in court Friday in a navy blue sweat shirt and black pants. One of his lawyers, sitting behind him, tried to speak with Asahara, who did not reply.

Asahara is charged with masterminding the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway and ordering more than a dozen other killings, resulting in the deaths of 27 people.

Prosecutors have demanded the death penalty for Asahara.

No more court sessions are scheduled until late February, when the three-judge tribunal is to announce its verdict.

Ten of Asahara’s former followers are already on death row, including one senior disciple who was found guilty Wednesday of helping to make the sarin nerve gas used in the subway assault and in a 1994 gassing near a judges’ dormitory that killed seven people.

The Aum Shinrikyo claimed 30,000 followers at its height, before the 1995 attack. It continues to exist, with about 1,700 followers, but has been subjected to intense crackdowns and most of its senior leadership has been jailed.

Twelve people died and thousands of others were sickened in the subway attack by Aum cultists who brought plastic bags of liquid sarin onto the trains in the morning rush hour and then, in at least one case, poked them with umbrellas to release the deadly fumes.

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