Doomsday cult raided in Japan

Japanese police today conducted fresh raids on the doomsday cult responsible for the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway, warning that it posed a danger as its leader nears execution.

They were the first raids since the Tokyo High Court last month rejected a document explaining defence arguments in the retrial of Aum Supreme Truth sect founder Shoko Asahara, increasing the likelihood he will be hanged.

Some 160 police officers inspected 11 sect facilities across Japan, including its headquarters in the Tokyo residential district of Setagaya, and questioned members about their activities, officials said.

Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura warned that the bearded cult founder, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, still wields significant influence over the 1600-member sect, now renamed Aleph.

“Their belief in Chizuo Matsumoto appears to be still strong,” Sugiura told a news conference following the raids.

“The number of believers is not declining while activities are still going on,” the minister said. “We still need to be fully on alert.”

Japanese media said the raids aimed to find out if sect members were plotting any actions related to the court proceedings for Asahara, a former acupuncturist who preached an apocalyptic mix of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs.

The cult escaped being outlawed when a legal panel ruled in 1997 that there was no reason to believe it still posed a threat to society.

But after a public outcry, parliament passed legislation allowing police to conduct snap raids and demand information including financial data from the sect without needing a warrant.

In March 1995, the sect sprayed Nazi-invented sarin nerve gas on rush-hour trains, killing 12 people and injuring thousands.

The sect has apologized, ditched Asahara as leader and pledged to obey the law, but investigators allege that hardcore members still follow the guru’s ideas.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced Asahara, 51, to death in February 2004 for the subway attack and other crimes which claimed a total of 27 lives.

Asahara’s lawyers missed a deadline to submit their arguments, saying they could not talk to the guru as he only mumbled nonsense.

But the high court found that Asahara was faking mental illness and rejected the defense’s late document. The lawyers are now appealing the decision.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
AFP, via NineMSN, France
Apr. 18, 2006

Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday April 18, 2006.
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