Dec 16, 2016

Doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara was ‘criminal’ says member on death row

South China Morning Post
December 16, 2016

A former senior member of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult who is on death row has described the founder and “guru” he once revered, Shoko Asahara, as a “criminal” in a recently published memoir.

Tomomasa Nakagawa, convicted for his role in producing sarin used in the deadly nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system on March 20, 1995, said in the six-page article in the November edition of Japanese magazine Chemistry Today that Asahara transformed what was otherwise a religious group into one that produced chemical weapons and perpetrated murder.

The terror attack on the subway system killed 13 and left more than 6,000 people injured.

In the memoir, Nakagawa, 54, referred to the founder as “Mr Asahara” and said he “chose those who deeply trusted him and ordered them to take actions” such as committing murder and manufacturing chemical weapons.

Daughter of Aum Shinri Kyo doomsday cult founder ‘sorry to be alive’

He said Asahara’s “ability to lead yoga and meditation was extremely high” and that none of the cult members, including himself, imagined they would become involved in such actions as killing when they joined the group.

Nakagawa’s death sentence was finalised in 2011. The 61-year-old Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is also still on death row.

His memoir also carried a personal apology to victims of the attack, as well as details of sarin production.

Nakagawa decided to write the article after being encouraged by Anthony Tu, a Colorado State University emeritus professor and toxicologist researching a string of incidents involving the cult. Tu, 86, has been visiting Nakagawa while in prison since 2011.

Nakagawa recounted that after succeeding in manufacturing about 30kg of sarin compound in February 1994, they spread about 12 litres of it in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture in June that year. This eventually resulted in a “major incident”, he said.

Aum Shinri Kyo is also known for having staged a sarin gas attack in a residential area of Matsumoto in central Japan on June 27, 1994, which killed eight people.

In producing sarin, one needs to have graduate school-level knowledge and experience in chemistry, and special equipment and systems must be in place to treat those who may have been poisoned by sarin, Nakagawa said.

Sarin gas attack survivor recalls near miss on Tokyo subway

He added, however, that it is hard now to obtain raw materials for sarin production and ruled out the possibility of another terror attack with sarin in Japan.

“If the investigative authorities pay close attention, it would be nearly impossible for such an act to be carried out,” Nakagawa said.

Death sentences have been finalised for 10 members of the cult in connection with the attack and other crimes, while sentences of life in prison have been finalised for four others.

In 2000, Aum Shinri Kyo was renamed Aleph. In 2007, senior Aleph member Fumihiro Joyu left the group to establish a separate group – Hikarinowa, or the Circle of Rainbow.

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