AUM Shinrikyo doomsday cult members admitted for the first time Tuesday that founder-guru Shoko Asahara instigated a series of crimes that culminated in the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. The cult also said it has adopted a new name, "Aleph," to replace AUM Shinrikyo.
Cult members said that Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the name represents a fresh beginning for the group. In a statement issued Tuesday, the cult announced a number of reforms intended to detach itself from its past centered on the fanatical following of Asahara, 44.
"We have concluded from trials of former executives that Asahara is highly likely to have been involved in the AUM crimes," Fumihiro Joyu, the cult's former mouthpiece recently released from prison, said. Joyu went on to denounce the AUM crimes under Asahara, but praised the guru as a "meditator supreme."
Asahara is on trial for at least 17 major crimes, including fatal sarin gas attacks in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture and in Tokyo, as well as numerous murder charges.
Tatsuko Muraoka, deputy representative of AUM, said she would head the group under the new name.
"There will be no guru in the new group," Muraoka said in the statement.
"Asahara's position will be that of a 'spiritual being,' but he is not going to be the absolute figure in our faith."
Muraoka stated that Aleph will base its religious practice on Asahara's interpretation of ancient yoga, fundamental Buddhism and the Mahayana. An old dogma that permitted murder and provided theoretical backings for crimes will be ditched.
All current followers of the cult must sign an oath in line with the new policy.
She also argued that the reforms are not intended to dodge a crackdown on the cult through the anti-AUM law, application of which is currently under consideration by the Public Security Examination Commission. Muraoka said that the AUM executives pondered about dissolving the cult, but decided against it because it would deny a means of providing compensation to victims of AUM crimes.
Both Joyu and Muraoka offered their apologies to the victims. However, Michiko Hishinuma, whose husband died in the deadly Tokyo subway gassing, described the cult's move as a desperate attempt at survival. "If they are sincere about their apologies, they should denounce all dogmas laid down by Asahara," Hishinuma said. "Adopting a new name means nothing. I just can't forgive the cult's very existence. I want them to dissolve."
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