National / Crime & Legal

Three major cases involving the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult

Kyodo, Bloomberg

The following are brief descriptions of three major acts of violence by the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult.

Tokyo subway sarin gas attack

Under instructions from Aum leader Shoko Asahara, 15 senior members conspired to take plastic bags containing sarin onto five Tokyo subway trains, which were converging at Kasumigaseki Station in the city’s government district, and release the poison by puncturing the bags with umbrellas, vaporizing the nerve agent, during the morning rush hour on March 20, 1995.

The attack caused panic and chaos in the subway stations and throughout Tokyo. Victims of all ages were described as “coughing uncontrollably, vomiting and collapsing in heaps.”

The attack, one of Japan’s worst terrorism incidents, killed 13 people and injured over 6,200.

More than 180 people were indicted for the attacks. Asahara was arrested in May 1995 and sentenced to death in February 2004 after an eight-year trial. Prosecutors at the time called him the worst criminal in the history of Japan.

Matsumoto sarin attack

On June 27, 1994, members sprayed sarin gas from a custom-made vehicle in a residential area of Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, about 100 miles west of Tokyo. The attack targeted judges who lived in the neighborhood and were involved in a land dispute case related to the cult.

In addition to the eight people killed, hundreds were injured by the colorless, odorless nerve gas. Developed as a pesticide, sarin can cause symptoms in humans ranging from watery eyes to paralysis and death, depending on the amount of exposure.

The Aum cult was a clear danger to not only to Japan but also to the United States, a 1995 report by a U.S. Senate subcommittee concluded. The cult had plans to attack senior Japanese government leaders, it said.

Murder of Sakamoto family

Under instructions from Asahara, six Aum members strangled 33-year-old lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto — who had been helping parents seeking to free their children from the cult’s control — as well as his 29-year-old wife, Satoko, and their 1-year-old son, Tatsuhiko, after breaking into the family’s home in Yokohama in the early hours of Nov. 4, 1989.