More than two decades after Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo cult plunged Tokyo into terror by releasing a nerve agent on rush-hour metro trains, its spinoffs continue to attract new followers.
Cult head Shoko Asahara is on death row, along with 12 of his disciples, for crimes including the metro attack, which killed 13 people and injured thousands.
He was arrested in 1995 in the wake of the sarin attack, but the Aum cult survived the crackdown, renaming itself Aleph and drawing new recruits into its fold.
Aleph officially renounced ties to Asahara in 2000, but the doomsday guru retains significant influence, the Japanese Public Security Intelligence Agency said.
“[Aleph] is a group that firmly instructs its followers to see Asahara as the supreme being,” an agency investigator told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“If someone says ‘guru Asahara wants to bring down Japan,’ there would be followers who would act. The group poses such a potential danger,” he said.
Raids on Aleph facilities have found recordings of his teachings, as well as a device used by the Aum cult known as a “Perfect Salvation Initiation,” a type of headgear that emits weak electric currents which members believe connects them to Asahara’s brainwaves.
Aleph and other splinter groups, which deny links to Asahara despite the claims of authorities, have 1,650 members in Japan and hundreds more in Russia, the agency said.
It said the groups attract about 100 new followers annually via yoga classes, fortune telling and other activities that do not mention the cult’s name, often targeting young people who do not remember the 1995 subway attack.
“Young female followers go to ‘training’ places with their children ... We are worried there is an increasing number of children who have been inculcated by the Aum since they were very young,” the investigator said.
Asahara and his wife Tomoko had four daughters and two sons, and most of the family remains within the cult.
In early March, on Asahara’s 63rd birthday, investigators were keeping their usual close eye on the headquarters of an Aum splinter group in a quiet Tokyo residential area.
“We are not marking the day in any way,” said Akitoshi Hirosue, deputy head of the Hikarinowa (“Circle of Rainbow Light”) group. “We actually think Asahara should be executed.”
Hikarinowa split from Aleph in 2007 under the leadership of flamboyant former Aum spokesman Fumihiro Joyu and now has about 100 to 150 members.
“As long as the death penalty is not implemented against him, Asahara is the ‘savior exempt from execution’ and helps Aleph win more followers,” Joyu has said in arguing for the death of his former guru.
Aleph training halls are closed to media and the group did not respond to enquiries.
Taro Takimoto, a lawyer who has helped relatives of cultists for decades, supports capital punishment for Asahara, but not the 12 other members on death row, who he says only acted as “limbs” of the guru.
He fears the 12 members would “become martyrs” if executed, only boosting cult recruitment.
Seven of those on death row were moved to different prison facilities in recent days, prompting speculation that they could soon be executed. It was not clear whether Asahara was among them.
Asahara’s execution might draw a line under the Aum’s crimes for some Japanese, but Takimoto warns it could also trigger suicides among his followers and lead to the appointment of a successor guru.
A leading candidate is Asahara’s second son, Takimoto said.
“If the second son, bearing Asahara’s ashes, declares himself ‘guru,’ he would gain serious religious authority,” opening a new chapter on the cult, Takimoto said.
STANDING WITH BEIJING: Carrie Lam did not explain how Hong Kong’s freedoms would be maintained, saying: ‘the best thing is to see the legislation in front of us’ Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) yesterday said that Beijing’s proposed national security laws would not trample on the territory’s rights and freedoms, and called on citizens to wait to see the details of the legislation. Lam added her voice to an unprecedented barrage of statements by Beijing and local officials, and former Hong Kong leaders defending the legislation and seeking to reassure residents, investors and diplomats about the territory’s freedoms. “There is no need for us to worry,” Lam told a regular weekly news conference. Like others supporting the legislation, she did not explain how Hong Kong’s freedoms would be upheld. “In
STEP TOO FAR? The mandatory COVID-19 app has unprecedented access to users’ location data and forces Android users to give access to their picture and video galleries Privacy concerns over Qatar’s COVID-19 contact tracing app, a tool that is mandatory on pain of prison, have prompted a rare backlash and forced officials to offer reassurance and concessions. Like other governments around the world, Qatar has turned to mobile phones to trace people’s movements and track who they come into contact with, allowing officials to monitor infections and alert people at risk of infection. The apps use Bluetooth to ping nearby devices, which can be contacted subsequently if a user they have been near develops symptoms or tests positive for the virus, but the resultant unprecedented access to users’ location
‘CULTURE ERADICATION’: A US official said that Beijing is trying to stamp out the Uighur culture because it is not what the Chinese Communist Party deems ‘Chinese’ The US Congress on Wednesday authorized sanctions against Chinese officials over the mass incarceration of Muslim Uighurs. The US House of Representatives voted with just one dissent in favor of the Uighur Human Rights Act. Rights groups say that at least 1 million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region have been incarcerated in what Beijing calls “re-education” camps. “If America does not speak out against human rights [violations] in China because of some commercial interest, then we lose all moral authority to speak out on human rights violations any place in the world,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. House Committee
UNITED STATES SpaceX launch delayed SpaceX’s launch to the International Space Station — the first crewed mission to blast off from US soil in almost a decade — was scrubbed on Wednesday due to fears of a lightning strike. With NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley strapped into the Crew Dragon capsule, the launch pad platform retracted and rocket fueling under way, SpaceX made the call to abort. “We had just simply too much electricity in the atmosphere,” NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said. UNITED STATES Chinese ministry checked Twitter has applied a fact check tag to at least two posts made in March by