Japan Cult Member Sentenced to Death

Tokyo Doomsday Cult Member Sentenced to Death for Role in 1995 Nerve Gas Attack That Killed 12

TOKYO Jan. 30 — A chemist was sentenced to death on Friday for leading efforts by a doomsday group to develop the nerve gas used in a 1995 attack on the Tokyo subways that killed 12 people, a court official said.

Masami Tsuchiya, 39, was the 11th member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that carried out the attack to be sentenced to death. Prosecutors said Tsuchiya’s responsibility in the killings was second only to that of the group’s guru, Shoko Asahara.

Tokyo District Court spokesman Hideyuki Itoh said Tsuchiya had been given the death penalty. It wasn’t immediately known if Tsuchiya’s lawyers would appeal the decision.

Tsuchiya, convicted on charges of murder and attempted murder in the subway gassing and other attacks, was accused of heading the cult’s drive to develop an arsenal of chemical weapons including VX, mustard and sarin gases intended to trigger Armageddon.

Sarin was used in the March 1995 attack on the subways, in which cult followers punctured plastic bags of the gas on rush-hour subway trains. In addition to the deaths, the attack sickened some 5,000 people and shocked the country.

The proceedings against Tsuchiya and other senior leaders have dragged on for years, in part because they face a long list of charges involving masses of evidence and testimony. Tsuchiya fired his lawyers twice, lengthening his case even further.

Prosecutors also are seeking the death penalty for guru Asahara, the nearly blind self-styled messiah who once claimed more than 10,000 followers. The verdict and sentence in his case are expected in mid-February.

Raids of cult headquarters and confessions of leading members later revealed the cult had numerous plots to overthrow the government and operated labs to develop chemical and biological weapons.

The group still exists under the name Aleph, but its membership has dwindled to about 1,000 or so.

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