Japanese doomsday cult still a threat to society, government says

TOKYO (AP) — The doomsday cult behind the deadly 1995 Tokyo subway gassing is still a threat to society, using businesses to expand membership and remaining faithful to its convicted guru’s violent teachings, the government said in a report Friday.

Followers of Aum Shinrikyo — whose former leader, Shoko Asahara, was sentenced to death in March — have set up more than 10 companies, including computer software makers, nationwide, the Public Security Investigation Agency report said.

The cult, which has changed its name to Aleph and remains under close surveillance by Japanese authorities, says the businesses are intended to raise funds to compensate victims of the subway gassing and other cult crimes.

The sarin gas attack on March 20, 1995, killed 12 people and injured thousands.

The agency report, however, said the businesses are aimed at expansion of the group, which is also conducting high-priced seminars and holds yoga classes to recruit new members.

Some followers also landed jobs at ordinary companies since around August last year to contribute salaries to the cult, the agency report said.

Although the group’s membership has shrunk to nearly one-tenth of its peak, it still has 1,650 members — 650 hardcore live-in followers and 1,000 others who practice at home — in Japan, and 300 others in Russia, the agency said.

Despite periodical inspections of Aum offices and facilities, the group has kept videos and books with Asahara’s philosophy, the agency said.

“Aum members continue to practice teachings that justify violence, while keeping absolute faith in Asahara,” Justice Minister Daizo Nozawa told reporters. “The situation still poses a threat to society and we have to keep the group under close surveillance.”

The cult is by law under the agency’s surveillance. The Justice Ministry is responsible for publishing a summary of the cult’s activities in an annual report.

Asahara was found guilty last month of masterminding the subway attack and 12 other crimes that killed a total of 27 people. Asahara, 49, was sentenced to death in a ruling that followed an eight-year trial. Eleven of his former top lieutenants have also been sentenced to hang, although none has been executed.

Three of the cult’s followers remain on a nationwide wanted list. Asahara’s lawyers appealed the February verdict, and his case is expected to drag on for years.

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Apr. 16, 2004
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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday April 16, 2004.
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