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Authorities Clear the Way for Disbanding Japan’s Doomsday Cult

May 23, 1995

TOKYO (AP) _ Authorities set the legal grounds today for outlawing the doomsday cult suspected of carrying out the Tokyo subway nerve gas attack and plotting guerrilla attacks on Japanese cities.

The Public Security Investigation Agency said Aum Shinri Kyo, the ``Supreme Truth″ cult, was being investigated for possible subversion, Justice Minister Isao Maeda told a news conference.

It was the first time any religious organization has been investigated under the law on anti-subversive activities, an agency official said.

``Because we also have to respect the freedom of religion, we plan to investigate very carefully before deciding whether to apply this law to the sect,″ said the official who, following Japanese custom, declined to be identified.

Under the law, a subversive organization can be forced to disband.

Police arrested Shoko Asahara, the sect’s leader, at his hideout at the foot of Mount Fuji May 23, and they are questioning him on whether he ordered the March 20 release of sarin nerve gas on the Tokyo subway. Twelve people died and more than 5,500 were sickened in the attack.

Most of the 41 other cult members suspected of murder and attempted murder in connection with the attack are in custody in the largest criminal investigation in Japanese history.

Asahara claims he is innocent, and refuses to discuss the attack, said a Tokyo Metropolitan Police spokesman who also spoke on condition of anonymity. Asahara fasts every other day, and when questioned today only motioned silently with both hands as if to demonstrate he is encased in a shell, the spokesman said.

Police have seized tons of chemicals and equipment that could be used to make sarin at the Mount Fuji compound, and confiscated caches of assault weapons, ammunition and small firearms from other cult facilities.

News reports have quoted cult members under arrest as saying the chemical and weapons stockpiles were intended for a guerrilla offensive against several Japanese cities beginning in November. The attacks were intended to realize Asahara’s prophecies of an apocalypse in 1997 that only the cult would survive, the reports said.

Media reports also say the cult had planned to release sarin from a blimp or mortar shells.

The Asahi Shimbun newspaper said senior cult members have admitted culpability in another toxic gas attack in central Japan last June that killed seven people and sickened 600 others. The two female members under arrest were also involved in making sarin, the newspaper quoted police as saying.

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