While Cult Leader Flatters Police, Followers Give Details of Subway Attack
TOKYO (AP) _ While guru Shoko Asahara tries to distract his interrogators with flattery, members of his flock have been divulging details about the nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway, news reports said today.
The cult’s top scientist told police Asahara ordered a nerve gas attack last year that killed seven people, newspapers said today.
Asahara, arrested Tuesday at the rural compound of his Aum Shinri Kyo cult near Mt. Fuji, has maintained his innocence in the March 20 attack that killed 12 people, suggesting his followers could have acted without his knowledge.
Police say they plan to charge the bearded, 40-year-old guru with murder and attempted murder.
Seiichi Endo, a leading cult member, has told police how he made sarin, the nerve gas used in the attack, at the cult’s compound in Kamikuishiki, news reports said today.
Masami Tsuchiya, a top cult scientist, told police Asahara ordered the sarin attack on the central town of Matsumoto that killed seven people last June, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest newspaper, and other news reports.
Tsuchiya is being held on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.
Police have also found evidence suggesting the cult was linked to an abortive cyanide-gas attack earlier this month in Shinjuku station in Tokyo, Japan’s busiest rail station, the Mainichi newspaper reported.
Police spokesman refused to confirm or deny the reports.
Burning bags containing chemical compounds were found and extinguished before they could mix. If the poison were released, experts said, it could have killed up to 14,000 people.
The Tokyo Shimbun reported today that police have seized plastic fragments at an Aum facility similar to those found in the gas-producing device left at Shinjuku on May 5.
Asahara has told his interrogators he will make the facts of the subway attack clear only later, in court, Kyodo News Service reported.
After first protesting his innocence and then appearing to prepare to shift blame to his followers, Asahara now is expression admiration of police, Kyodo reported.
``You investigators look really cool, like detectives in TV dramas,″ he was quoted as saying during police questioning. He then compared his interrogators to a pair of famous Japanese cop-show actors.
Despite his lack of cooperation, investigators say questioning of other cult members is giving them a fuller picture of how the group operated.
Aum Shinri Kyo reportedly used personal information on customers of its video rental business to manufacture false identities for members. The Yomiuri newspaper quoted police as saying a group headed by the cult’s detained ``intelligence minister″ made false student identification cards and drivers’ licenses.
Takeshi Matsumoto, a 29-year-old cult member arrested Thursday on suspicion of kidnapping cult members who wanted to leave, reportedly rented a car using one of the fake identities.
Police say they had to identify Matsumoto by his palm prints because his fingerprints had been surgically removed.
Hopes for rescuing people kidnapped by the cult in recent years are looking dim. One detained cult suspect has said a notary kidnapped in February had died in the sect’s captivity.
Another detained suspect, who has not been named by news reports, is said to have hinted that the cult was responsible for the 1989 abduction of a lawyer, his wife and baby son. The cult has long been suspected in the kidnapping, but no trace of the family has ever been found.
In another development, authorities are raising the possibility that they will seek financial redress from the cult if its role in the subway attack is proven.
Ryutaro Fujimoto, a Labor Ministry official in charge of disaster claims, said the ministry is considering filing a claim against Aum for sickening workers during their commute, which makes their health problems a job-related injury.
As of Tuesday, the ministry has received labor compensation claims from 1,111 passengers injured in the attack and granted approval to 890 of them. About 90 of them are subway station officials, Fujimoto said.
Under Japanese law, the government first pays compensation to the labor-related health hazards. It can then seek payment from those who caused the hazard.