In Brief

Aum Shinrikyo: seven cult members executed over Tokyo subway sarin attack

Cult leader and six followers hanged for role in 1995 terror attack that killed 13

Seven members of a doomsday cult responsible for a sarin nerve gas attack on a Tokyo subway station that killed 13 people have been executed.

Cult leader Shoko Asahara, real name Chizuo Matsumoto, and six other members of Aum Shinrikyo were hanged at a Tokyo detention centre on Friday morning, Japan’s Ministry of Justice confirmed. Six other cult members remain on death row for their role in the 1995 attack.

What was Aum Shinrikyo?

Aum Shinrikyo started life in 1984 as a meditation and and yoga group led by Asahara, developing into a religious movement drawing on Buddhist, Hindu and Christian influences.

The group’s ideology rapidly became increasingly apocalyptic as cult leaders tightened their grip over their followers, with reports of former members and other perceived enemies being kidnapped or murdered.

In 1989, a lawyer working on a class action lawsuit against the cult disappeared, along with his wife and infant son: cult members would later admit to killing them.

By the early 1990s, Aum Shinrikyo had evolved into “a violent cult that sought confrontation with the state as a prelude to the end of civilisation”, says The Guardian.

What happened in the subway attack?

In 1993, Aum Shinrikyo began secretly manufacturing the deadly nerve agent sarin, which they first unleashed in June 1994 in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto, in an attack targeting the homes of judges.

Eight people died in that atrocity, whose perpetrators would remain a mystery until the Tokyo subway attack the following year.

On 20 March 1995, senior cult members released the nerve agent in five crowded train carriages en route to Tokyo’s busy Kasumigaseki subway station during morning rush hour.

Prosecutors at the group’s subsequent criminal trials would claim that Asahara ordered the attack in a bid to divert the attention of the authorities, who were planning a raid on the cult’s headquarters.

Thirteen people died of sarin poisoning, and thousands more became unwell as a result of breathing in the gas.

The massacre “is remembered as a watershed event that deeply damaged a long-held sense of security felt by many in postwar Japan”, says The Japan Times.

Japan marked the 23rd anniversary of the deadly attack earlier this year, with workers at Kasumigaseki Station observing a minute of silence.

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