Investigators probe Japanese doomsday cult headquarters on fears of resurgence

Mainichi Daily News, Japan/April 18, 2006

Dozens of investigators swarmed the offices of a once-deadly Japanese cult Tuesday in a nationwide inspection triggered by suspicions that members still revere the group's former guru, now on death row, authorities said.

The Public Security Intelligence Agency inspected 11 offices of Aleph, successor to the Aum Shinrikyo cult, which carried out a series of murders including the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subways that killed 12 people.

The latest inspection -- one of more than 120 since Aleph was put under a surveillance order in 2000 -- came as lawyers for former Aum leader Shoko Asahara battle a death sentence handed down in his 2004 conviction for 26 murders.

About 160 agents checked facilities throughout Japan on Tuesday, an agency official said on condition of anonymity, citing agency protocol.

"There are still some who blindly follow Asahara, and we don't know what will happen," the official said. "So we are inspecting whether or not there is any danger."

"It seems that they are still active and we need to be extremely careful," said Justice Minister Seiken Sugiura.

The Tokyo High Court rejected Asahara's appeal of his death sentence in late March. His lawyers have filed an objection to the ruling, claiming the former cult leader is mentally incompetent to face justice.

The court is still deliberating the petition and it is not clear when a decision will be issued, a court official said on Tuesday on condition of anonymity, citing court policy.

Asahara, born Chizuo Matsumoto, was convicted and sentenced to hang for masterminding the 1995 Tokyo gas attack.

He has also been convicted of plotting a 1994 gas attack that killed seven people in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto, as well as the kidnapping and murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family, and other slayings.

At its height, Aum claimed 10,000 followers in Japan and another 30,000 in Russia. The group later renamed itself Aleph, though authorities have long suspected members still followed Asahara's apocalyptic teachings.

Japanese authorities say about 1,650 people in Japan and 300 in Russia still believe in Asahara.

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