Police in Japan yesterday arrested the final fugitive from the religious cult that launched deadly nerve gas attacks on Tokyo’s subway in 1995, media said.
The capture of Katsuya Takahashi brings to an end a police hunt for those behind the coordinated release of sarin gas, an incident that killed 13 people, injured thousands and sowed panic throughout the capital.
“Tokyo Metropolitan Police confirmed the identity of the man as Katsuya Takahashi by using finger prints and other information,” broadcaster NHK reported.
Takahashi, 54, was detained near a comic book cafe in southern Tokyo, it said.
Jiji Press later confirmed Takahashi had been formally arrested on suspicion of murder and other charges.
A huge manhunt had been under way in and around the capital since the arrest less than two weeks ago of Naoko Kikuchi, 40, a former member of the Aum Supreme Truth cult.
Both Kikuchi and Takahashi had been on the run for more than 17 years following the release of sarin on Tokyo’s heaving underground system, an attack that formed part of a doomsday vision by the cult’s founder.
Despite posters showing their faces being displayed at nearly every train station in Japan, Takahashi, Kikuchi and fellow fugitive Makoto Hirata long evaded capture. Hirata, 47, gave himself up at a police station in central Tokyo minutes before midnight last New Year’s Eve.
He is suspected of being part of a plot to kidnap and confine the brother of an Aum follower who had escaped from the cult in February 1995, a month before the subway gas attack.
On June 3, police arrested Kikuchi, who stands accused of being involved in the production of the sarin.
The subsequent police probe showed that until recently she had been in close contact with Takahashi, and that he had been living in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo.
Over the past few days, police had ramped up their hunt for Japan’s most wanted man, with officers regularly patrolling transport hubs.
They have also supplied TV broadcasters an almost daily diet of security camera footage, giving glimpses of a man they said was Takahashi as he sought to flee.
The Aum cult was also responsible for an attack on the city of Matsumoto in central Japan in 1994, when sarin — which then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein deployed against the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1988 — killed eight people.
PARTIALLY BLIND GURU
The cult was led by Shoko Asahara, a partially blind guru who 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, along with 12 others.
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.
Police declined to confirm the reports of Takahashi’s arrest.