Cult behind Tokyo sarin gas attack split in war of succession

The cult that released sarin nerve gas in Tokyo’s subway system in 1995 is fighting a vicious internal battle, with observers warning that if the fundamentalist faction wins then the infamous Aum Shinrikyo will again pose a threat.

After being arrested in the wake of the subway attack, in which 12 people died, the cult founder, Shoko Asahara, 50, was sentenced to death last year.

He still wields enormous influence in the organisation, however, and his diehard supporters are demanding that despite the cult’s name being changed to Aleph, they remain true to Asahara’s apocalyptic teachings.

Leading sect member Fumihiro Joyu, on the other hand, preaches a more pragmatic line and is calling for the group to recognise the mistakes it made in the past, apologise for them and move on.

He has even suggested that the cult travel around Japan promoting its activities.

“Joyu is a pragmatist and he realises that Aum cannot continue unless they admit the crimes of Asahara, but he faces a large number of members who are fundamentalists,” said journalist Shoko Egawa, who was hospitalised when an unidentified gas was released in her apartment by cult followers in 1994 after she wrote a series of critical articles.

“The Joyu group is not so large, but it is waging a very aggressive campaign to persuade the third faction in the cult – those who are undecided – to join them,” she said.

“The fundamentalists have links with Asahara’s family and want his children to take over his role in the cult,” she added.

“I hope the cult disappears in the next few years and even though I do not fear for my own safety any more, I am concerned that if the fundamentalist faction takes control then it will pose a threat to Japanese society.”

The Metropolitan Public Security Department has also expressed concern over the possibility of the war of words between the two main cult factions spilling over into violence.

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The Scotsman, UK
Nov. 2, 2005
Julian Ryall in Tokyo

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday November 2, 2005.
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