Sun, Mar 21, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Japan marks 15th year after deadly subway gas attacks

SILENCEThe cult that used Nazi-invented sarin gas to kill 13 subway commuters was never banned in Japan, and is finding young recruits who may not know of the crimes

AFP , TOKYO

A train arrives at a platform of Tokyo’s Kasumigaseki Station yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Japan yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of the deadly 1995 Tokyo subway nerve gas attacks, with families of victims leaving flowers at the scene of some of the deaths.

Train staff held a moment of silence at the Kasumigaseki subway station at 8 am, roughly the hour when the Nazi-developed sarin gas was released into packed commuter trains during the morning rush hour.

In all, 13 people were killed and more than 6,000 injured, many of them severely, when the Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult attacked stations and trains simultaneously.

The Kasumigaseki district of Tokyo is the center of the Japanese government.

Shizue Takahashi, whose ­husband was one of the two victims at Kasumigaseki station, urged cult followers to compensate the injured and bereaved.

“That the government offered a helping hand to victims doesn’t mean cult believers are exempt from their responsibility to pay compensation,” she said.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his transport minister Seiji Maehara also paid tribute to victims.

“I pledge in front of the victims’ souls that I’ll do my best to ensure transport safety, including taking anti-terror measures,” Maehara told reporters.

The cult was founded by Shoko Asahara, a bearded, half-blind former acupuncturist who preached of a coming apocalypse.

Asahara, 55, and nine other cult members are currently awaiting execution on death row, while three others remain at large.

After the subway attack, the Aum cult renamed itself Aleph — after the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet — and deposed Asahara. But authorities say hardcore followers still revere him and are actively recruiting younger generations who may not know about or remember the Aum cult’s earlier crimes.

The group now has about 1,500 members in Japan, a third of whom live in compounds, and about 200 followers in Russia. The cult was never outlawed in Japan, thanks to the country’s constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, although it was banned from teaching Asahara’s violent dogma and remains under close surveillance.

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