TOKYO, July 9–Tokyo police have decided to question former AUM Shinrikyo cult member Satoru Hashimoto who has emerged as the prime suspect in the 1995 shooting of then National Police Agency chief Takaji Kunimatsu, investigative sources said Thursday.
The police made the decision to question Hashimoto, 37, after investigations led police investigators to strongly suspect that he was the actual gunman in the shooting in front of Kunimatsu’s home in Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward at around 8:30 a.m. on March 30, 1995.
Kunimatsu was seriously wounded after being shot three times in the stomach. He was directing the investigation into suspicions surrounding AUM, which renamed itself Aleph in January 2000.
Hashimoto has been sentenced to death over the murder of an anti-AUM lawyer, his wife and infant son. He has appealed to the Supreme Court.
Hashimoto is now in jail but is not willing to meet investigators from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, the sources said.
By questioning Hashimoto, the sources said, the police hope to fully probe the suspected involvement of AUM founder Shoko Asahara, 49, and former senior AUM member Kiyohide Hayakawa, 54, in the shooting.
Police suspicions that Hashimoto was the gunman stem from witness accounts that a man resembling him was seen near the scene.
According to the witness accounts, a man who shot Kunimatsu was in his 30s and more than 170 centimeters tall and wore a black raincoat and a white mask.
A former police officer, two former senior AUM members and one current follower were arrested Wednesday over the shooting.
The former police officer, identified as Toshiyuki Kosugi, 39, was an AUM member at the time. The two former senior AUM members were identified as Tetsuya Uemura, 49, and Koichi Ishikawa, 35.
Kosugi, who was not acquainted with Hashimoto, told investigators that Hashimoto “resembled the perpetrator” after seeing his photo.
Kosugi also said he lent a man resembling Hashimoto a raincoat on the morning of March 30 and they went to the site of the shooting by car, the sources said. The man later returned the raincoat and asked Kosugi to take it to the laundry, the sources added.
According to police investigations, Uemura, Ishikawa, Matsumoto and Hayakawa were at the AUM headquarters in Kamikuishiki, Yamanashi Prefecture, shortly before the shooting.
The police suspect that Matsumoto directed Hayakawa to assemble a shooting squad and drew up an assassination plot, the sources said.
The shooting occurred eight days after the Tokyo police launched a series of raids into AUM, following the deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system March 20, 1995, which killed 12 people and sickened more than 5,500.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death Feb. 27 for his role in 13 criminal cases, including the subway attack. Several other senior cult members have also been convicted or are standing trial in connection with the subway attack or other crimes.