Asahara death would be ‘loss for mankind,’ says Russian follower

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia, Feb. 13 (Kyodo) — The widely expected death sentence to be handed down on Shoko Asahara, the founder of the AUM Shinrikyo cult that is blamed for the 1995 subway gas attack in Tokyo, would result in ”a loss for mankind,” an imprisoned Russian cult follower said Friday.

Asahara ”has become enlightened through spiritual training,” Dmitry Sigachev said in an interview at a prison in a suburb of Vladivostok where he was sent for plotting terrorist attacks in Japan in a bid to free Asahara from detention.

The Tokyo District Court is scheduled to hand down its ruling on Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, on Feb. 27. Prosecutors have demanded the death sentence.

Asahara is charged with murder for ordering the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack and a number of other crimes committed by his followers in which more than 20 people were killed. In the gas attack on the Tokyo subway system alone, 12 were killed and thousands injured.

Although rejecting the possibility that he will act again for the group in the future in Russia, Sigachev implied he still believes in Asahara’s teachings, citing a remark by a Tibetan holy figure that it does not matter whether a person lives near the master or not if that person has absolute belief in the master.

As for the sarin attack, he refused to comment. Asked about the cult group, however, Sigachev said, ”I can evaluate their spiritual activities (in the past). But it is difficult to answer about other things.”

Sigachev also said the attempt to restore the group in Russia is ”senseless” because AUM, which has renamed itself Aleph, is a group organized by Asahara and because he ”is no longer in Russia.”

In January 2002, the Vladivostok district court gave Sigachev and two other Russian AUM followers prison sentences and handed down a suspended term to another for plotting terrorist attacks in Japan.

Sigachev, the plot leader, was sentenced to eight years in prison, the heaviest term among the four.

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