Ex-cult spokesman to start new group

Reuters/March 5, 2007

Tokyo -- The former spokesman for a Japanese doomsday cult responsible for a nerve gas attack on Tokyo subway trains in 1995 is leaving the cult to set up a new group, Japanese media said on Monday.

Fumihiro Joyu, 44, who at one point was also the number two leader of Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth Sect), will take around a quarter of the group's remaining members with him when he leaves, Kyodo news agency said.

Aum admitted in 1999 to being involved in the sarin attack, which killed 12 and injured thousands. In the following year it changed its name to Aleph, with its leaders insisting the cult was benign.

After a trial lasting nearly a decade, former cult guru Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death for masterminding the attack. His sentence was confirmed in September and he is on death row.

The cult has divided into two factions, one of which supports Joyu and is critical of Asahara, and the other supporting Asahara, Kyodo said.

According to Kyodo, on Monday Joyu told Japan's Public Security Investigation Agency, which is in charge of public security and has been monitoring Aum for a number of years, that he intends to establish the new group. An agency official said he was unable to confirm the report.

Joyu was often seen on Japanese television denying Aum's involvement in the attack and won admirers, especially among teenage girls, who saw him as handsome and articulate.

He served a three-year term in prison for perjury and was released in 1999.

The new group will be established with 60 full-time and 200 lay members, but the timing of its foundation and its name have yet to be decided. Kyodo said the cult currently has some 400 full-time and 690 lay members.

The head of the Public Security Investigation Agency told Reuters last year that full-time cult members number around 650 and about another 1,000 are lay members in Japan, with around 300 members in Russia. In 1995 there were about 11,400 members in Japan and about 40,000 in Russia.

He said the group continued to pose a grave threat to the public.

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