Mar 23, 2023

Japan marks 28 years since AUM cult's Tokyo subway sarin attack

March 20, 2023 (Mainichi Japan)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan on Monday marked 28 years since the AUM Shinrikyo cult's nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 14 people and injured over 6,000, at a time when another controversial religious group continues to draw public attention after the shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

At Kasumigaseki Station in the Japanese capital, officials observed a moment of silence at a memorial service at 8 a.m., around the time when the deadly sarin nerve agent was released in train cars on March 20, 1995.

Among those attending the event and also laying flowers was Shizue Takahashi, whose husband, a deputy stationmaster at Kasumigaseki Station, died in the incident.

Takahashi, 76, leads a group of victims who have been urging the government to set up a facility to keep and disclose records of the attack.

"As the number of people who do not know about the incident increases, I am afraid it will be forgotten," Takahashi told reporters.

She also warned that while public awareness of cults is growing, problems arising from problematic religious groups "may be repeated" without "properly preserving" records.

Abe's alleged shooter, Tetsuya Yamagami, has told investigators that he held a grudge against the Unification Church, a religious group known for its aggressive solicitations of donations, and believed Abe had links with it. Abe was shot last July while giving an election campaign speech.

Yamagami's statements led to renewed scrutiny of the Unification Church, prompting the government to launch an investigation into the organization with an eye to obtaining a court order to remove its status as a religious corporation with tax benefits.

Subway operator Tokyo Metro Co. set up stands for mourners to lay flowers at Kasumigaseki, Kodemmacho, Hatchobori, Nakanosakaue and other central Tokyo stations where people were caught up in the attack.

Tetsuo Saito, minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, also visited Kasumigaseki to lay flowers.

"The government will strengthen efforts to fight terrorism and to create an environment in which train passengers can feel safe," he said in a statement.

The doomsday cult's founder, Shoko Asahara, and 12 former AUM members were put to death in 2018.

In all, five train cars were attacked simultaneously on three separate lines during the morning rush hour, causing havoc at the stations and paralyzing the subway network in the capital.

AUM Shinrikyo renamed itself Aleph in 2000. It and two other successor groups -- Hikarinowa, or the Circle of Rainbow Light, and a smaller offshoot of Aleph -- remain under surveillance by authorities.

Ahead of the anniversary, the Public Security Examination Commission, under the Justice Ministry, slapped Aleph with a six-month ban on the use of 13 of its approximately 20 facilities nationwide and on receiving donations for failing to fully report its activities as legally required.

It was decided on March 13 to restrict the activities of the group due to the risk of it committing indiscriminate killings and other criminal acts.

Aleph had at least 1,280 members as of the end of January, according to the Public Safety Intelligence Agency.

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