Fumihiro Joyu said Wednesday he has left Shoko Asahara’s AUM Shinrikyo cult with some 160 members to form a new group that bans monotheistic belief, seeks spiritual healing and promotes positive contributions to society.
“To fully achieve our regeneration, we need to eradicate (Asahara’s) influence,” he told a news conference held to announce the formation of his group, the “Ring of Light.”
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AUM renamed itself Aleph in 2000. Joyu, one of Asahara’s chief disciples, led it from 2002.
But in September, Japan’s top court upheld a 2004 death sentence for Asahara for the subway gassing and other crimes that killed 27 people altogether, and Joyu decided to ban Asahara’s teachings, along with the use of his image and music in textbooks and videos.
“We do not believe in them,” he said, denying allegations that the move is a cover-up.
Some of his group members “might still have some feelings toward Asahara, but that is not devotion,” Joyu said. “It is definitely not the kind of thing that would lead us to repeat the attacks again.”
Before the subway attack, AUM amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with the government. About a dozen cult leaders have been sentenced to death, but most of the sentences are under appeal.
Joyu said his group plans to shoulder about 20 percent of Aleph’s responsibility to compensate victims of the subway gassing, which left 12 dead and thousands injured.
Aleph remains under close surveillance by the Public Security Intelligence Agency. Police and residents also monitor the new group around the clock outside a condominium housing their Tokyo headquarters.
The cult once had 10,000 members in Japan and another 30,000 in Russia. Authorities say membership has shrunk to about 1,650 in Japan and 300 in Russia. The group split into factions in recent years, including one that remains close to Asahara’s family.