At Group’s Forest Compound, Searchlights, Cops _ And a Canary
KAMIKUISHIKI, Japan (AP) _ The setting was as tranquil as the mood was tense: As dawn broke over this town near a lake in the foothills of Mount Fuji, waves of police in gas masks and protective suits moved in.
The raid on the rural compound that serves as the national headquarters of the secretive Aum Shinri Kyo sect in Kamikuishiki, 68 miles west of Tokyo, was one of more than two dozen carried out simultaneously by 2,500 police at the group’s facilities nationwide.
The dawn raids came two days after a nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway.
Suspicion fell on the group because of allegations it has been involved in producing the substance, suspected to be sarin. But police did not link the raids to the nerve-gas attack, citing instead an unsolved kidnapping. Aum Shinri Kyo has denied involvement in the attack.
At Kamikuishiki, red lights and spotlights lit up the forest as the police prepared to move in. Convoys of more than 100 vehicles and 1,000 men spread out to seven separate sites in the town.
One officer carried a canary, apparently to warn of the presence of toxic fumes. Police, armed with pistols, were clad in protective footgear and carried masks.
About 15 people could be seen moving around inside one of the compounds as about 200 police took up formation and strapped on gas masks outside. Police marched up the drive in columns three abreast, riot shields held high.
From one of the second-floor windows, occupants recorded the police entry with video cameras. Some scuffles were seen, but there was no sign of serious armed resistance. A few sect members appeared to be coming out on their own.
They concentrated their efforts on the compound’s warehouse, a five-story structure with few windows and peeling white paint _ and a likely spot for storing any dangerous materials.
Two hours later, police were clearly in control. Most had moved inside, and others were cordoning off the property. It was not known how many cult members were being held inside.
The Buddhist sect, which claims 10,000 members in Japan, accused the government of carrying out the subway attack as part of a plot against the group.
Almost immediately after the Tokyo attack, press reports linked the group to chemicals like the nerve gas used in the subways.
News reports said a byproduct of the nerve gas sarin was found in the town of Matsumoto, where seven people died in a mysterious poisoning in 1994, and in Kamikuishiki, near one of the group’s facilities.