'Aum' doomsday cult wants to double membership

Herald-Sun/June 3, 2005

The doomsday cult notorious for a fatal gas attack on the Tokyo subway 10 years ago is on a drive to double its membership and earn more money through new businesses such as selling used cars, an expert has said.

A senior member of the Aum sect told believers in a seminar earlier this year that "the number of followers would be twice as large if each one of you wins one new member," said the government expert involved in the investigation of the cult.

The doomsday sect holds three seminars a year in Japan for "lay followers" who do not live on an Aum commune, the government source said on condition of anonymity.

About 270 members attended the latest seminar held during the Golden Week of holidays from April 29 to May 5, bringing more than Y30 million ($278,000) in donations to the sect, the source said.

The group is also diversifying its business into operations such as selling used automobiles in addition to its mainstay computer business which includes software development and hardware sales under a disguised name, the source said.

"As they know we are keeping an eye on them, they are trying to enter various other businesses," the source said.

The number of Aum believers in Japan has been staying flat at around 1650 for the past five years, down from the peak 11,400 before the March 1995 gas attack on the subway, according to the Public Security Intelligence Agency.

It also has some 300 followers in Russia, the agency says.

Aum founder Shoko Asahara, a bearded former acupuncturist, was last year sentenced to death for crimes including the rush-hour subway attack that killed 12 people and injured 5500 others.

The sect changed its name in early 2000 to Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, deposed Asahara as its leader and apologized for past wrongdoing, saying it had abandoned violent and risky rites.

But the government agency says cult members still follow the teachings of the jailed Asahara, who preached a peculiar apocalyptic mix of Hinduism and Buddhism.

His daughters say he is no longer able to recognize what is going on around him in detention and mumbles incomprehensibly.

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