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Police Arrest Suspected Cult Member With Box of Passports

April 5, 1995

TOKYO (AP) _ Police investigating the cult suspected in the Tokyo subway nerve gas attack arrested a woman they caught removing a box of passports from an airport coin locker.

The passports were believed to belong to cult members, police said today.

The woman was arrested Monday at Naha Airport in Okinawa in southwestern Japan, said police official Norio Oda. He said she refused to answer questions and was being held for interfering with police duties.

News reports identified her as the 37-year-old wife of a senior member of the cult, which is known as Aum Shinri Kyo and is suspected in the March 20 gas attack in Tokyo that killed 11 people and injured more than 5,500 others. The sect denies involvement in the attack.

Following the arrest, police raided the group’s Naha office today and seized eight boxes of documents, officials said.

Japanese newspapers have reported that dozens of sect members applied for passports shortly before the nerve gas attack, and leader Shoko Asahara and other top officials have been missing since. The sect says it was a routine renewal.

Police would not say what they found at the Naha office.

Meanwhile, 220 police officers continued searching for evidence today in Kamikuishiki, a cult commune near the foot of Mount Fuji.

In other raids on cult properties in the last 15 days, police have seized hundreds of barrels of chemicals they say can be used to make sarin, the nerve gas in the Tokyo subway attack.

They also have found large amounts of peptone, a nutrient that can be used to grow bacteria for biochemical research. Japanese news reports say police also found a bacteria that causes botulism, along with equipment that can be used to make chemical and biological weapons, at the cult compound.

Designs for a biochemical laboratory were in a large stack of documents seized from a cult member’s car on March 23, the newspaper Asahi reported today.

Asahara predicts a war between Buddhists and Christians will begin as early as 1997 and wipe out most of the world population except for sect members.

The cult, registered as a religious group in 1989, has assets of about $29 million, according to the Yomiuri newspaper. Much of that was donated by followers who are required to turn over all their possessions when they join.

On Tuesday, police raided a sect building in Tomizawa, 18 miles from the Mount Fuji commune, which housed sophisticated machine tools.

The newspaper Japan Times quoted former followers as saying that computer-controlled lathes at the facility were used to make gun parts and knives with nine-inch blades.

Police said the facility was supplied by 6,600 volts of electricity, enough to run a medium-size factory.

Also today, an official at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry said it had told Japan’s top three chemical industry organizations to strengthen controls on dangerous chemicals.

The cult used front companies to buy enough chemicals to make tons of sarin capable of killing millions of people, news reports say.

Update hourly