TOKYO — The cult leader interrogated by police in connection with Tokyo’s deadly gas attacks maintained his innocence yesterday, saying his Sublime Truth sect has been framed by police.
Shoko Asahara said that “absolutely no one” from the sect spread sarin, the nerve gas that killed 12 people and sickened 5,500 on Tokyo’s subways March 20, according to attorney Makoto Endo. “This is an absolutely false charge.”
But Endo said he declined to represent Asahara when the guru asked him to be his attorney.
Asahara, 40, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of ordering the subway attack. The arrest capped a two-month investigation into the cult.
Twenty-one sect members, including Asahara, are jailed in connection with the attack.
Police say they will charge Asahara with murder and attempted murder, but can hold him 22 days before doing so.
The bearded Asahara was questioned briefly after being seized Tuesday at the cult’s mountain stronghold in the town of Kamikuishiki, near Mt. Fuji. He insisted he was innocent and told police he was healthy.
Yesterday, however, Asahara complained of liver problems each time he was asked about the subway attack, a police spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
Despite Asahara’s protestations, reports mounted that he ordered other crimes besides the subway attack.
A cult scientist, Masami Tsuchiya, linked the sect to the nerve gas attack in Matsumoto in June 1994 that killed seven people, according to local news reports citing police.
And the Mainichi newspaper said the cult’s chief doctor admitted to planning to give a lethal injection to a notary public kidnapped Feb. 28. The plan was not carried out, the doctor was quoted as saying, because the man, 68-year-old Kiyoshi Kariya, already had died in captivity.
Kariya’s kidnapping was one of many abductions that the Sublime Truth sect has been accused of in the past few years. The targets were usually disgruntled followers and cult critics.
Japanese officials meanwhile vowed to deter any reprisal attacks by cult members angry over the guru’s arrest. Tens of thousands of police and soldiers trained in chemical warfare were deployed nationwide.