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Survivor of Poison Gas Attack Testifies in Cult Leader’s Trial

September 5, 1996

TOKYO (AP) _ The cult leader accused of ordering a poison gas attack looked on indifferently today as a subway worker testified how he watched a colleague die cleaning a train after the attack.

Shoko Asahara, the Aum Shinri Kyo leader worshiped by thousands as a guide to enlightenment, appeared placid as he sat handcuffed in a Tokyo courtroom surrounded by four policemen, his hair and beard grown wild.

He is accused of masterminding the March 20, 1995, sarin nerve gas attack that killed 12 people and sickened thousands. In the first victim testimony against Asahara, station employee Toshiaki Toyoda said he was called to the platform as the last passengers evacuated.

He was struck by the strange odor: ``It was something that I had never smelled before. I can’t really describe it in words. I recognized it as something ominous, something evil.″

Toyoda and two colleagues he joined near the train used newspapers to clean up the source of the smell _ liquid dripping from a plastic bag found in a car. His colleagues, Kazumasa Takahashi and Tsuneo Hishinuma, collapsed near their pile of dirty newspapers.

``The last time I saw Takahashi, we were carrying him into the office on a stretcher. His eyes were open,″ Toyoda said, his voice shaking. ``I tried talking to him, but he wouldn’t reply.″

Hishinuma also died. Toyoda said he collapsed and was hospitalized for a month. None of the three were wearing protective gear.

Takahashi’s widow, Shizue, said outside the courtroom that she had never heard the details of her husband’s death.

``I never knew my husband was in such a condition,″ she said. ``It was sad to hear that information in such a place.″

In the afternoon, defense lawyers grilled police officers who investigated the attack. They challenged the credibility of the police report, depicting the initial probe as hasty and shallow.

Police investigator Hitoshi Kuroda testified that hours after the attack, the sarin continued to affect officers interviewing witnesses at the station.

``I had a terrible runny nose and teary eyes myself,″ Kuroda said. ``I admit we were in a hurry.″

The sarin, developed by the Nazis in World War II, was released just after 8 a.m., when five subway lines converged on the Kasumigaseki station in downtown Tokyo where the three men worked.

Prosecutors believe Asahara, who proclaimed only his faithful would survive a coming Armageddon, used the attacks to try to confuse police who were growing suspicious of the cult’s activities.

Since his trial began in late April, Asahara, 41, has refused to enter a plea on nearly 20 charges, including a dozen other murders as well as kidnappings and illegal drug production.

If convicted of plotting the subway attack, Asahara could be hanged.

Earlier this week, a civil court ordered Asahara and two top disciples to pay nearly $7.5 million in damages to victims of the subway attack. However, it is unlikely the money ever will be collected; the cult is bankrupt and has been ordered to disband.

Seven cult members still are sought in connection with the subway gas attack.

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