Cult Leader Warns of Divine Revenge, Police Step Up Raids
TOKYO (AP) _ As police staged one of their biggest searches yet, the leader of a cult suspected in a deadly gas attack on Tokyo’s subways warned today that the gods will ``explode with anger″ if the pressure continues.
More than 1,300 officers nationwide participated in raids on 88 offices, yoga centers, communes and other facilities run by the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, which police believe produced sarin, the type of nerve gas used in the March 20 subway attack.
Police confirmed seven cult members were arrested, including Masami Tsuchiya, who headed Aum’s extensive experiments with chemicals and its sarin research, and Seiichi Endo, an Aum leader and biologist.
Both were arrested on suspicion of sheltering escaping criminals.
For the first time, police confirmed they were conducting the raids in connection with possible ``preparation for murder″ charges. They said they were seeking 10 members of the cult’s Science and Technology Ministry.
Authorities are believed to be pursuing the relatively light charge, which carries a maximum two years in prison, because it can be sought even if they fail to link the cult directly to the subway deaths.
They would need to prove only that the cult was producing nerve gas. They seized all the necessary ingredients from cult property in earlier searches.
Today’s raids followed comments Tuesday by Japan’s top security official likening the investigation to a war and vowing even greater efforts would be made to win it quickly.
The cult’s founder, self-proclaimed messiah Shoko Asahara, warned of calamity unless police pull back.
``The authorities are unjustly arresting our stoic disciples and doing things they certainly shouldn’t,″ Asahara wrote in a hastily prepared book which went on sale today. ``This is escalating and will certainly cause the gods to explode with anger.″
In the book, ``The Sadness of a Dead Japan,″ Asahara said he is gravely ill. He attributed his condition to biological weapon attacks on him and his followers by the U.S. military.
The guru, who predicts global war will begin in 1997, has been in hiding since the subway attack. He denies cult involvement in any violence.
Two days after the subway gassing, which killed 12 people and sickened 5,500, officers with chemical warfare gear began raiding Aum facilities.
Police also are guarding government buildings, major train stations and entertainment centers. Even so, the subway gassing has been followed by a frightening wave of violence:
_Ten days after the subway terror, Japan’s top police official was shot and nearly killed.
_Hundreds of people were sickened in two gas incidents in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo, this month.
_One of Aum’s top officials was fatally stabbed by a self-professed ultrarightist on Sunday.
_Police in Maebashi, 63 miles north of Tokyo, were investigating as a possible copycat attack toxic fumes that sickened 20 people outside a restaurant Tuesday night. Local police spokesman Shigeru Imaizumi said traces of a common agricultural chemical were found near the restaurant.
Because police have made no arrests or definite links among several gassings and the shooting of a police official, the attacks have created a high level of anxiety in and around Japan’s capital. Commuters are warned repeatedly to watch for suspicious people or packages.
More than 100 Aum believers have been arrested over the past month, mostly on minor charges.
A report in the Sankei Shimbun, a major newspaper, said one arrested follower has identified two cult members who helped carry out the subway attack. Police refused comment.
Fumihiro Joyu, Aum’s chief spokesman, called a news conference today to deny another report that an arrested cult member told police he saw poison gas experiments being carried out at the cult’s main commune at the foot of Mount Fuji.
The report was based on anonymous police sources. Joyu said the cult’s lawyer had contacted the cult member, who denied the report, and accused police of deliberately leaking misinformation.
Aum, a hybrid of Buddhist and Hindu teachings, claims some 40,000 followers in Japan and Russia.