Aum fugitive Kikuchi arrested in Kanagawa


Naoko Kikuchi, a former Aum Shinrikyo cult member who had been wanted for years for alleged involvement in the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack, was arrested Sunday in a city southwest of Tokyo, police said.

The arrest, and the possibility of fresh revelations about the cult’s crimes, could affect the timing of the executions of Aum founder Shoko Asahara and his 12 followers now on death row for their involvement in the release of the lethal gas in five subway trains during the morning rush hour in downtown Tokyo that killed 13 people.

Kikuchi, 40, has admitted to her involvement in production of the gas though she says she did not know what it was, according to the police. Her arrest came five months after Makoto Hirata, another former Aum member turned himself in to police after being on the run for more than 16 years.

Kikuchi was one of the two remaining members of the cult still on the run for more than a decade. The remaining member on the wanted list is Katsuya Takahashi, 54, who is also suspected of involvement in the subway attack.

Kikuchi was detained by the police in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, shortly before 8 p.m. on Sunday. When asked by an investigator in Sagamihara if she was Kikuchi, she said, “Yes,” the police said, adding that the suspect was transported to the Metropolitan Police Department’s head office in central Tokyo late Sunday.

The police also arrested a 41-year-old man Monday who lived with Kikuchi at an apartment in Sagamihara on suspicion of harboring her. Hiroto Takahashi lived with her for about four years in Tokyo’s Machida and about two years in Sagamihara but denied he is an Aum member, according to the police.

Kikuchi, a marathon runner, is also suspected by the police of being involved in a parcel explosion in the Tokyo metropolitan government building in May 1995. Other Aum members said earlier they produced the parcel bomb, addressing it to then Tokyo Gov. Yukio Aoshima in a bid to disrupt police investigations into the cult at that time.

Asahara, 57, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and a number of his followers are on death row for committing a series of crimes including two sarin nerve gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system and in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, in central Japan, in 1994.

Kikuchi is alleged to have conspired with Asahara and others in killing 11 train passengers and a subway worker and injuring more than 5,500 others in the gas attack on the Tokyo subway system on the morning of March 20, 1995. Authorities revised the number of deceased victims to 13 and that of the wounded to more than 6,000 in line with a special law aimed at helping those affected by Aum-caused crimes enacted in 2008.

Aum Shinrikyo renamed itself Aleph in 2000. It remains under surveillance by the Justice Ministry’s Public Security Intelligence Agency.