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One of the enduring mysteries of the Aum Shinrikyo atrocities of the 1990s is the ease with which the cult attracted members. The arrest this month of the last two fugitives allegedly involved in Aum’s fatal 1995 sarin gas assault on the Tokyo subway system recalls the whole ghastly episode, together with its unsolved riddles. What would draw sane, relatively prosperous, in many cases highly intelligent people to the incoherent blend of pseudo-philosophy, pseudo-enlightenment and pseudo-mysticism that elevated robbery, murder and terrorism into acts of religious devotion?

Even now, with cult founder Shoko Asahara and 12 leading disciples on death row, the cult, reconstituted as Aleph, continues to attract adherents. Why?

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