Police in Japan were yesterday quizzing a woman over the 1995 nerve gas attack on Tokyo’s subway that killed 13 people, leaving only one cultist still wanted for one of the nation’s worst ever mass murders.
Police said Naoko Kikuchi was being held on suspicion of murder after being arrested late on Sunday in the city of Sagamihara, west of Tokyo, with local media reporting that officers swooped after a tip-off.
Kikuchi, 40, was one of only two remaining members of the Aum Shinrikyo (Aum Supreme Truth) doomsday cult still being sought for allegedly being part of the team responsible for producing the sarin nerve gas used in the attack.
“It is true that I was involved in producing sarin gas, but I did not know what we were making at that time,” she was quoted as telling police.
Kikuchi’s arrest leaves only Katsuya Takahashi, 54, on the wanted list.
In the 17 years since the deadly attack, which injured thousands and caused havoc throughout Tokyo, Kikuchi had lived under an assumed identity, telling neighbors she worked as an accountant for a nursing company, reports said.
Kikuchi was quoted by Jiji news agency as telling police: “I have lived as Chizuko Sakurai, but I’m relieved that I don’t have to run away anymore.”
The agency said she also told police she no longer believes in the teachings of Aum guru Shoko Asahara, adding: “I will tell you everything. I am sorry for running away for a long time.”
Police said she had been living with a 41-year-old man, who was not an Aum member and who stayed with her even after she revealed her true identity. Local media reported he proposed to Kikuchi soon after the pair met in around 2005.
The woman told him that she had “a reason she could not marry,” and told him her real name Jiji reported, citing investigative sources.
The man was also arrested early yesterday, accused of harboring a criminal.
The 1995 subway attack was one of Japan’s worst mass murders, in which sarin, first developed by the Nazis, was released onto several packed rush-hour trains.
The coordinated attacks at stations near Japan’s seat of government sowed panic throughout Tokyo’s heaving metro system.
The Aum cult was also responsible for an attack on the city of Matsumoto a year earlier, when sarin killed eight people.
As well as those who died, thousands more were injured, some of them seriously and permanently by inhaling or coming into contact with the gas, which cripples the nervous system.
The end of Kikuchi’s life on the run came just months after the surrender of Makoto Hirata, 47, a former Aum member who gave himself up at a police station in central Tokyo minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Aum guru Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, preached a blend of Buddhist and Hindu dogma mixed with apocalyptic messages, and developed an obsession with sarin gas, becoming paranoid that his enemies would attack him with it.
According to prosecutors the cult wanted to disrupt police moves to crack down on them and at the same time enact Asahara’s vision of an apocalyptic war.
Asahara was arrested at a commune near Mount Fuji two months after the attack on Tokyo and sentenced to hang, having been convicted of crimes resulting in multiple deaths. He remains on death row. The group changed its name to “Aleph” in 2000.
The guru used a mix of charisma, mysticism and raw power to commit one of Japan’s most shocking crimes with his disciples, who included doctors and engineers educated at elite Japanese institutions.