Japanese police arrest cult leader

By PETER KENNY  |  May 16, 1995
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TOKYO, May 16 -- Japanese police clad in riot gear on Tuesday arrested Shoko Asahara, the leader of the doomsday cult suspected of masterminding the deadly March 20 nerve gas attack in Tokyo. A thick fog that engulfed the town of Kamikuishiki near Mount Fuji in central Japan was lifting as police clad in riot gear closed in for the arrest that was the culmination of the biggest criminal investigation ever in Japan. An officer read murder charges to the 40-year-old Asahara, who had predicted the end of the world by the end of the century. 'When the charges were read to him, Asahara replied, 'How could I do such a thing, I am blind',' a spokesman for the Tokyo Metropolitan police said. A police spokesman said Asahara was meditating, clad in purple robes, in a tiny hidden room at the Aum complex when they found him. Police used welding torches to break into the room. The bearded and nearly blind messiah of the sect who became an obsession of Japan did not resist arrest. His capture came nearly two months after the terror attack that killed 12 and sickened more than 5,500 others and followed a dramatic pre-dawn swoop by more than 1,000 police at the main facilities of the Aum cult at Kamikuishiki. Tokyo residents watching the arrest on televisions in various parts of the city applauded at the arrest and again when TVs showed a police escort arriving at police headquarters, where Asahara was being held.

'What is most important is to make sure similar incidents won't happen again,' said Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who appeared on television shortly after the arrest. 'We ask for your (the Japanese people's) cooperation in this case of indiscriminate terror.' Murayama also warned that some members of Aum might still possess the deadly nerve gas sarin that authorities say was used in the Tokyo subway attack. He also said the government may seek to outlaw the Aum cult. Chemical units of the army and firefighters were placed on special alert in Tokyo for what officials described as possible revenge attacks. The Deputy Commissioner General of Japan's National Police Agency, Yuko Sekiguchi, also urged caution. 'We see the Tokyo nerve gas attack is just the beginning of a series of other organized crime by the Aum Supreme Truth, and we will continue our all-out investigation into the group,' Sekiguchi said. The poison gas attack in Tokyo's crowded subway system drastically changed the lives of commuters in what has long been considered one of the world's safest large cities. Other sporadic gas attacks followed on some railway lines or stations around Tokyo. The sect leader had remained at large from the time of the attack up until his arrest. Some government officials said his arrest took place once authorities felt convinced they had sufficient proof to arrest Asahara on murder charges. Some Japanese media have reported Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is seriously ill. Asahara, who used to drive a Rolls Royce, has predicted the end of the world by the end of the century. Using flashlights for the early part of the hunt, police searched for about four hours through the maze of cell-like rooms at the No. 6 Satyan building in Kamikuishiki village before they found the elusive cult figure. Police had to use a cutting torch to gain access to the room where Asahara was hiding. The raid was part of a nationwide sweep of 130 locations throughout Japan in search of Asahara and 40 of his followers. But the focus of the raid centered on the headquarters. Police cordoned off the entire area surrounding the compound, west of Tokyo, on the long-awaited day the Japanese media had called 'X-Day,' when police would finally arrest Asahara for his role in allegedly leading the deadly gas attack. Helicopters flew over the compound and police sent in a small convoy to take the cult leader back to Tokyo where he will face murder charges. The arrest warrant for Asahara was issued within hours of the arrest of the cult's intelligence chief, Yoshihiro Inoue, and came as authorities reported another suspicious gas incident at a subway station south of Tokyo. Authorities Monday night reported an incident involving an unknown gas at the Shin-Yokohama station, about 30 miles (50 km) south of Tokyo. At around 11 p.m., authorities reported a cloud of white smoke accompanied by a foul smell in the station. A few people were taken to hospitals after inhaling the smoke, but no one was seriously injured. Earlier Monday, police arrested Inoue, who was on a nationwide wanted list in connection with the Feb. 28 abduction of Kiyoshi Kariya, a manager of a notary public office in Tokyo's Meguro Ward. Police originally used the kidnapping as a pretext for searching facilities of Aum. Inoue is suspected of directing the March 20 gas attack, and there was speculation police wanted to get him into custody before issuing a warrant for the cult leader in order to prevent retaliation. Police also say they have a confession from the head of the cult's chemical unit, Masami Tsuchiya, that the group manufactured sarin.

TOKYO: x x x murder charges. Some Japanese media have reported Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is seriously ill. Asahara, who used to drive a Rolls Royce, has predicted the end of the world by the end of the century. Using flashlights for the early part of the hunt, police searched for about four hours through the maze of cell-like rooms at the No. 6 Satyan building in Kamikuishiki village before they found the elusive cult figure. Police had to use a cutting torch to gain access to the room where Asahara was hiding. The raid was part of a nationwide sweep of 130 locations throughout Japan in search of Asahara and 40 of his followers. But the focus of the raid centered on the headquarters. Police cordoned off the entire area surrounding the compound, west of Tokyo, on the long-awaited day the Japanese media had called 'X-Day,' when police would finally arrest Asahara for his role in allegedly leading the deadly gas attack. Helicopters flew over the compound and police sent in a small convoy to take the cult leader back to Tokyo where he will face murder charges. The arrest warrant for Asahara was issued within hours of the arrest of the cult's intelligence chief, Yoshihiro Inoue, and came as authorities reported another suspicious gas incident at a subway station south of Tokyo. Authorities Monday night reported an incident involving an unknown gas at the Shin-Yokohama station, about 30 miles (50 km) south of Tokyo. At around 11 p.m., authorities reported a cloud of white smoke accompanied by a foul smell in the station. A few people were taken to hospitals after inhaling the smoke, but no one was seriously injured. Earlier Monday, police arrested Inoue, who was on a nationwide wanted list in connection with the Feb. 28 abduction of Kiyoshi Kariya, a manager of a notary public office in Tokyo's Meguro Ward. Police originally used the kidnapping as a pretext for searching facilities of Aum. Inoue is suspected of directing the March 20 gas attack, and there was speculation police wanted to get him into custody before issuing a warrant for the cult leader in order to prevent retaliation. Police also say they have a confession from the head of the cult's chemical unit, Masami Tsuchiya, that the group manufactured sarin.

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