Prime Minister Tightens Security After Discovery of Poison Gas Devices
TOKYO (AP) _ Police stepped up patrols today in Tokyo’s trains and subways after cyanide bombs were discovered in two stations, frightening anew a country that had hoped the crackdown on a doomsday cult would put an end to such attacks.
Police say thousands of people could have been killed had the homemade devices gone off. Both were discovered before their timers had activated a motor that would have cut through vinyl bags and allowed the chemicals inside to mix, creating a cloud of lethal cyanide gas.
The first bomb was found Tuesday night by a janitor in one of the same stations targeted in the nerve gas attack that killed 12 people and set the country on edge this spring.
Many Japanese had hoped the arrest of the leaders of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, blamed for the March 20 attack and a series of other crimes, meant they could relax.
``I’m frightened again,″ Hiroko Takizawa, a university student, said today. ``I really hope police would work harder and catch everyone as soon as possible.″
Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama called an emergency meeting of Cabinet ministers and announced they had decided to increase security in trains and other public areas.
Government spokesman Kozo Igarashi said there was a strong possibility, but no immediate evidence, that the Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth, cult was behind Tuesday’s attacks.
Cult officials today denied involvement.
Scores of rush-hour passengers, some screaming, ran out of Kayabacho subway station after the first bomb was found in a women’s restroom there.
The other device was found about six hours later by an employee at a men’s restroom in Shinjuku, the world’s busiest train station.
A similar poison-gas device was found in a Shinjuku restroom exactly one month ago, also before its chemicals could combine. Several Aum members have reportedly admitted to investigators that the group placed the earlier Shinjuku device.
Noxious fumes were also reported Tuesday night at two other major stations _ Ginza and Tokyo. Three people complained of throat and eye irritation at Tokyo station, but the source of the fumes was not found.
Security has been tight in Tokyo train and subway stations since the nerve gas attack, but has relaxed somewhat since 34 top cult members were indicted last month. Police are still searching for seven cult members suspected in the March 20 gassing.
After the May 16 arrest of cult guru Shoko Asahara, many Japanese feared possible retaliatory attacks. There have been a series of unexplained releases of noxious fumes in the past several months, most recently on Sunday and Monday in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo.
Akira Idota, a professor of criminal law at Osaka International University, said it is not easy to obtain sodium cyanide, one of the substances in the devices discovered Tuesday.
In their searches of Aum facilities, police have confiscated tons of dangerous chemicals that could be used to make nerve gas and other poisons.
Asahara has predicted an apocalypse that only cult members would survive. Japanese press reports have said the group was developing chemical, electronic, biological and conventional weapons in an apparent attempt to attack population centers and overthrow the government.