Japanese authorities raid doomsday cult facilities ahead of guru’s trial

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese agents raided key facilities of a doomsday cult Monday, searching for evidence of a terror plot ahead of a verdict in the trial of the group’s guru for a 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subways.

About 200 investigators poured into the Tokyo headquarters and 10 other centers of the former Aum Shinrikyo in the latest raid on the group, which now calls itself Aleph. Investigators did not immediately detain any suspects Monday.

The raids come ahead of the Feb. 27 verdict in the murder trial of guru Shoko Asahara, who is accused of masterminding the Tokyo attack, which killed 12 people and sickened thousands, and a series of other murders. He faces the death penalty. Prosecutors demanded the capital punishment for Asahara.

The group has shown signs of greater devotion to Asahara in recent months, raising concerns it could mount a terror attack around the time of his ruling, an official with the Public Security Intelligence Agency said on condition of anonymity.

Agents also want to pin down the whereabouts of group leaders, the official said.

Despite a police crackdown after the March 1995 gas attack, the cult has regrouped in recent years and now has 1,650 members in Japan and 300 in Russia. The group remains under surveillance by the intelligence agency.

At its height, Aum Shinrikyo had 10,000 members in Japan and 30,000 in Russia.

The cult had a chemical and biological weapons program and produced the sarin gas that was used in the Tokyo attack. Asahara is also accused of killing wayward disciples and ordering the deaths of an anti-cult lawyer and his family.

So far, 11 of Asahara’s followers have been sentenced to death in connection with several cult attacks. None has yet been executed.

Source:
Associated Press, USA
Feb. 15, 2004
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