TOKYO, Sept 29, 1999 (Reuters) - Two members of a Japan doomsday cult accused of a 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway were arrested on Wednesday on charges of imprisoning a fellow cult member who wanted to leave the group.
The move came a day after reports that Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth Sect) is likely to make an apology for the incident for the first time.
Police arrested senior cult members Masahiro Guntani, 30, and Ryuji Shimotori, 37, for allegedly confining a 29-year-old female cult member against her will after she asked to leave the cult in March 1998.
Police alleged that the two confined her to the facility for around 10 days, binding her hands and feet with tape and submerging her in water until she lost consciousness.
The woman managed to escape in early April that year, according to police.
Since December 1997, four people including the woman had fled from the facility, which was used for cult members who had broken the group's rules, Japanese media reports said.
The cult argued the woman had been mentally ill and that cult members had never forcibly imprisoned her.
"The woman involved in the current case had serious delusions and frequently roamed about outside our facilities, which indicates that she could freely leave and enter the (cult's) premises," Aum said in a statement.
"The cult authorities have not issued any such instructions (to confine her) and we are very surprised," it said.
The early morning arrests, which followed a raid on the Aum facility by some 200 investigators, were just the latest in a growing series of official crackdowns on the group.
In response to growing opposition, authorities believe, the group appears ready to acknowledge it was behind the sarin gas attack in Tokyo that killed 12 and left thousands ill.
The daily Yomiuri newspaper said on Tuesday it had learned through an interview with cult spokesman Hiroshi Araki that while the matter was still under discussion, some within the cult felt that perhaps it was time an apology be made.
Aum will hold a press conference at nine p.m. (1200 GMT) later on Wednesday "about the future course of the cult," the group said in a statement.
Until now, the cult had said that there was no truth to allegations that it was connected with incidents such as the gas attack.
But cult leader Shoko Asahara said in a court session last week that plans for the subway gassing had been discussed by cult members.
Asahara is facing a total of 17 charges for masterminding the 1995 attack, in which sarin gas was released on the Tokyo subway during the morning rush hour.
Security experts believe the apparent change of heart may be connected to the group's attempts to revamp its image in the face of official crackdowns and spreading grassroots opposition to it.
The cult is said to be especially concerned about a bill the government is preparing to restrict its activities.
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