Members of Aum Shinrikyo apologized Friday to the people victimized by the heinous crimes committed by senior cultists on the orders of the guru, Shoko Asahara, who was sentenced to death earlier in the day.

“We will deeply take to heart the death sentence” and will “exert more efforts” to compensate the victims, the group said in a brief statement.

Asahara, 48, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was convicted of murder and attempted murder in 13 counts that resulted in 27 deaths.

The Tokyo District Court sentenced him to death after pronouncing him guilty on all 13 counts, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

Aum renamed itself Aleph in January 2000. The organization, which has about 1,650 followers in Japan as well as followers in Russia, is under surveillance by the Justice Ministry’s Public Security Intelligence Agency.

Asahara gets a lawyer

The lawyer who represents two of Shoko Asahara’s daughters will defend the Aum Shinrikyo founder in his appeal against the death sentence handed down Friday by the Tokyo District Court.

Takeshi Matsui, who belongs to the Tokyo No. 2 Bar Association, will work as Asahara’s private lawyer.

The 12 state-appointed lawyers in the trial said they will not represent Asahara in the appeal trial before the Tokyo High Court.

Koizumi sees justice

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Friday he believes Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara deserved the death sentence handed down against him.

At the same time, the prime minister showed a willingness to map out measures to support people victimized by Aum’s crimes.

“He deserved the death sentence given the enormity of the crimes,” Koizumi told reporters at his office, commenting on the capital punishment the Tokyo District Court handed down against Asahara earlier in the day.

“We will do as much as we can to deal with” calls on the government from the victims of the crimes to take measures to help them, Koizumi said, without elaborating.

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