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Murder of Cult Leader Leaves Japan Wondering What’s Next

April 24, 1995

TOKYO (AP) _ Accusing the police of religious persecution, cult members on Monday mourned one of their leaders, whose public slaying left Japan wondering what could possibly happen next.

Hideo Murai, 36, was stabbed Sunday night by a right-wing extremist angry over the March 20 nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subways that officials suspect was carried out by Murai’s apocalyptic cult, Aum Shinri Kyo. He died Monday.

Murai, head of the cult’s chemical research division, had appeared on television almost daily to deny the group ever produced sarin, the gas that killed 12 people and sickened 5,500 in the subways.

He and other cult members insist the group had nothing to do with the gas attacks or the near-fatal shooting of Japan’s police chief 10 days later.

``We have been made out by the mass media as criminals and killers who deserve to be killed,″ cult spokesman Fumihiro Joyu said Monday. ``I wonder what’s next.″

The cult laid flowers and burned incense Monday at the site of Murai’s slaying. As reporters and onlookers watched, several members in white satin gowns danced barefoot to new-age music in exuberant, exultant movements. There was no explanation, but many observers speculated it was a funeral dance or a eulogy.

Police have arrested more than 100 cult members, but none on charges relating to the subway attack. The cult calls the arrests harassment.

``People have been arrested for distributing handbills,″ said Aum member Yasuo Hiramatsu. ``This is a case of outright religious persecution.″

Over and over again Monday, TV networks played slow-motion footage of a kitchen knife slipping into Murai’s side. The sight haunted many in a country that thought itself immune to terrorism and violence.

``This whole thing is really upsetting,″ said office worker Toru Yasuda. ``Especially the bloody knife. We see images of violence in America, and now it’s here, too.″

Kimura Masaki, 21, added: ``Japan is really getting more and more frightening.″

Last week, hundreds of people were sickened by toxic fumes Wednesday at the main train station in Yokohama, near Tokyo, and Friday at a nearby shopping center.

Prime Minister Tomiichi Marayama called for greater efforts in investigating the nerve-gas attack and Murai’s murder. ``It is unforgivable (for anyone) to pass along their beliefs through violence,″ he said.

Murai’s death could complicate the investigation.

``It’s going to be especially difficult now to establish the link between whoever was giving the orders and whoever was carrying them out,″ said Kazuo Kawakami, former director of the Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office.

Police arrested 29-year-old Hiroyuki Jo for the murder after he dropped the knife.

Police said Jo, born in Japan to South Korean parents, belonged to a rightist group called Protectors of the Land of the Gods. News reports say the group has only four members and registered with the government last October.

``After seeing TV and newspaper reports, I thought I had to do something,″ Jo reportedly said. ``I wanted to strike at the leadership of the Aum Shinri Kyo.″

Also Monday, police arrested cult member Shigeyuki Hasegawa, 26, on suspicion of illegally storing 11,050 gallons of the flammable chemical glycerin.

Searches of cult compounds in the last month have turned up tons of chemicals and equipment that could have been used to make sarin. Reports quoting anonymous police sources said evidence indicates the cult also had rifle production facilities, biological warfare labs and even plans to buy nuclear weapons from Russia.

The group claims some 10,000 members in Japan and another 30,000 in Russia. Its leadership predicts the world will end in 1997.

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