Prosecution: Guru Praised Disciples After Subway Gas Attack
TOKYO (AP) _ The leader of the cult that carried out the Tokyo subway attack celebrated afterward, welcoming his disciples back with refreshments and praising them for the nerve gas killings, prosecutors said Thursday.
On the second day of a trial that has riveted the nation, prosecutors laid out their case against Shoko Asahara, portraying him as a cold-blooded killer in a 99-page opening statement full of previously undisclosed details.
Asahara is accused of masterminding the March 1995 attack that killed 12 and sickened thousands. He also faces charges in several other killings linked to Aum Shinri Kyo, his apocalyptic cult. On Wednesday, he refused to make a plea.
In their statement, prosecutors said Asahara ruled the cult with an iron hand, once quietly listening to the screams of a member being strangled on his orders.
The guru ordered the subway attack ``to set off massive confusion in the Tokyo area″ and divert the attention of police he believed were planning a raid on his cult, prosecutors said.
Afterward, Asahara praised followers who carried out the crime and welcomed them back with sweet rice cakes and juice, the prosecution’s statement said.
The document quoted the guru as telling the disciples: ``Meditate. And chant ten thousand times the phrase, `This is good, with the blessing of the guru, the great god Shiva and all the victors of truth.‴
Shiva is the Hindu god of creation and destruction. The cult’s dogma includes elements of Buddhism and Hinduism.
The trial, which opened Wednesday, has mesmerized the country. Nearly 6,000 people jammed a park near the courthouse Thursday morning, hoping to secure a seat in the small public gallery. No cameras are allowed in the courtroom, but TV stations provided constant updates from outside.
In accusing Asahara of ordering the strangulation of a wayward follower, prosecutors said the cult leader had preached that his commands were sacred.
``If a guru orders murder, that person ... has already reached a time to die,″ they quoted Asahara as telling followers.
The prosecutors also detailed the cult’s production of sarin nerve gas and illegal drugs; the logistics of the subway assault; Asahara’s background; and his total control over disciples.
Asahara, 41, was expressionless throughout. Looking relaxed, he sat for the most part with his eyes closed. On Wednesday, he fidgeted through a nearly six-hour recitation of nearly 4,000 names of those killed or sickened in the gas attack.
Security was tight Thursday, with Asahara whisked to and from a detention house in an unmarked bus whose curtains were drawn. As he left in the afternoon, a squad of helicopters hovered overhead.
Asahara’s defense lawyers have their own security concerns. One, Osamu Watanabe, said Thursday that the Tokyo Bar Association had received 20 threatening calls against him and another attorney.
If convicted, Asahara could face death by hanging. The trial is expected to take years. The next session before the four-judge panel is set for May 23.
Though the court process will be lengthy, it is unlikely to produce many surprises. There are no jury trials in Japan, and fewer than 1 percent of criminal defendants are acquitted.
Some of the guru’s lawyers are prominent opponents of the death penalty _ suggesting that the focus of their efforts will be aimed at winning him a life prison sentence and avoiding the noose.
Along with the subway attack, prosecutors have charged Asahara with murder for an earlier nerve gas attack that killed seven people in central Japan; for the killing of two cult members; and for the kidnapping and murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family.