Prosecutors on Tuesday sought life imprisonment for a former member of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult for playing a major role in the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that left 13 people dead and thousands injured.

During the attack, Katsuya Takahashi, 56, acted as the driver for one of the cult members who released the deadly sarin on a packed subway train.

He thus played an “important” role in helping the cult carry out the attack, the prosecutors claimed in the Tokyo District Court.

“The defendant knew the attack would cause mass fatalities and yet he dutifully performed his assigned role to realize the wish of his guru,” the prosecutors said, referring to Aum leader Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.

Takahashi, who has pleaded innocent to almost all of the charges against him, says he did not know anything about the sarin attack.

The gassing was part of the apocalyptic cult’s grand machinations, proclaimed by Asahara in its heyday, to elevate the doomed souls of this world to a higher spiritual stage.

Asahara is now on death row.

Two decades after the attack, Takahashi still refers to Asahara as “guru,” which the prosecutors said points to his lingering loyalty to the half-blind leader and the possibility of recidivism.

He also caused Japanese society great anxiety by going on the lam for 17 years, they said, arguing that this long period of time when he evaded capture indicates he possesses a tenacious obsession to escape punishment. He also lacks repentance, they said.

“He committed his crimes to seek favor from Asahara and ascend through the hierarchy within the cult. That’s selfish,” they said.

Takahashi faces a series of charges, including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and solitary confinement resulting in death, destruction of corpses, and violation of an explosives control law.

When the trial opened in January, he pleaded not guilty to almost all of the charges, mainly citing his lack of previous knowledge before the crimes were committed.

The prosecutors said Takahashi played an “important” role in helping perpetrate the subway attack and other Aum transgressions he was involved in, but unlike his seniors in the cult, he didn’t “plan” any of the crimes from scratch. His role thus remains a secondary one and he doesn’t merit being handed the death penalty, they told the court.

Among the charges, Takahashi is accused of involvement in the 1994 assassination of a company employee and the 1995 kidnapping and fatal drugging of Tokyo notary Kiyoshi Kariya. He also allegedly sent a parcel bomb to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office in 1995, causing a secretary in Gov. Yukio Aoshima’s administration to lose all the fingers of his left hand.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.