Aum nerve-gas cult chemist sentenced to death

TOKYO: The Tokyo District Court has sentenced a senior chemist in the Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult, responsible for the 1995 sarin nerve-gas Tokyo subway attack which killed 12 people and for other crimes, to death.

Masami Tsuchiya, 39, became the 11th Aum member to receive a death sentence in court of first instance.

A ruling in the trial of Aum guru Shoko Asahara is scheduled for February 27 at the district court.

The court’s ruling said Tsuchiya headed a chemical unit in the yoga-practising Japanese cult and was largely responsible for the production of deadly chemicals like the Nazi-invented sarin and VX gas.

“He played a significant and indispensable role in producing highly deadly sarin gas,” presiding judge Satoru Hattori said.

Tsuchiya conspired with the cult’s guru Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, to organise the subway attack, in which 12 people were killed and thousands of others were injured, the judge said.

The judge also said Tsuchiya produced sarin gas used in a 1994 attack in the city of Matsumoto, central Japan, which killed seven people and injured 144 others.

The gas was released outside an apartment block which housed judges involved in a case against the cult.

Marathon court trials involving 189 people who were indicted on Aum-related crimes will climax with the district court ruling on Asahara.

In April prosecutors demanded the death penalty for Asahara, who has been on trial for more than seven years as the alleged mastermind of Aum crimes, which resulted in the deaths of 27 people.

Asahara, who led the cult with a mixture of Indian mysticism and primitive Buddhism — and with his visions of an apocalyptic war against the establishment, did not physically take part in the release of sarin gas.

None of the 10 death sentences previously passed on Aum members have yet been carried out, as all of those convicted have appealed to a high court or the Supreme Court.

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