Japan says Aum doomsday cult still dangerous

Reuters/March 12, 2002

Tokyo -- The Japanese government said on Tuesday that the Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult that was charged with masterminding a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 remained dangerous and needed to be watched.

"The group maintains its fundamentally dangerous nature and we must continue to carefully watch its movements," Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama told a cabinet meeting, an official said.

According to an annual report compiled by the Public Security Investigation Agency that Moriyama submitted to the meeting, the number of live-in cult followers at the end of last year was around 650, while the number of lay members was some 1,000.

These numbers are far from the 12,000 estimated members prior to the gas attacks that killed 12 and made thousands ill, but the organisation continues to worry many Japanese.

The cult, which has changed its name to Aleph -- the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet -- says it is now a benign religious group.

In the past, it preached that the world was coming to an end and that it had to arm itself to prepare for calamities.

A number of cult members have already been sentenced to death, and the trial of group founder Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, reached its halfway point in January.

If convicted, Asahara -- on trial for 13 crimes including planning and ordering the subway attack -- is also likely to be sentenced to death.

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