TOKYO, Feb. 16 (Kyodo) — The Justice Ministry’s Public Security Intelligence Agency raided 11 facilities nationwide Monday related to the AUM Shinrikyo cult, which is blamed for a host of crimes, including the 1995 subway gas attack in Tokyo, ahead of next week’s first court ruling on AUM founder Shoko Asahara.
The Tokyo District Court is widely expected to hand down the death penalty on Asahara, 48, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, on Feb. 27.
The raids, which involve about 200 agency officers, were conducted to prevent any of his followers from taking any action related to the ruling.
They were the biggest inspections ever the security agency conducted on AUM facilities. The agency began its probe on AUM in February 2000, and since then it has raided 76 AUM facilities in 19 prefectures on a total of 71 occasions.
The inspections were conducted at the cult’s various facilities in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, Sapporo, Sendai, Yashio in Saitama Prefecture, Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kosei in Shiga Prefecture, Tokushima and Fukuoka.
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The probe also includes, for the first time, a stronghold of the cult’s breakaway faction in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward.
According to the agency, there are five factions in Japan that act independently from the main unit, and they are composed mainly of former AUM followers who split from the main unit. Most of them strongly believe in Asahara, and one of them is the Nerima Ward-based group.
Last year, the cult faced power struggles between those who sought to reform its image and distance themselves from Asahara and those who oppose such reform moves.
Asahara faces several charges including murder for ordering the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack and other crimes committed by his followers in which more than 20 people died. AUM renamed itself Aleph in January 2000.