Ex-leader of Japan doomsday cult says sorry

AFP/September 21, 2007

Tokyo — A former leader of the Japanese doomsday cult behind deadly nerve-gas attacks has met a high-profile survivor for the first time to offer a direct apology, his group said Thursday.

Fumihiro Joyu, former spokesman of the Aum Supreme Truth cult, met Yoshiyuki Kono, 57, on Wednesday and apologised for the 1994 attack in the central city of Matsumoto.

But Japanese security authorities, which closely monitor the cult and Joyu's splinter group, criticised the meeting as a mere publicity stunt.

The Aum sect killed seven people in Matsumoto by unleashing Nazi-invented sarin nerve gas, in an apparent rehearsal for a 1995 attack on Tokyo subway trains that left another 12 people dead and thousands injured.

Kono, whose wife is still in a coma, was falsely accused by police and media of being responsible for the gas leak because he was close to the scene at the time.

"Three executive members including Joyu met Mr. Kono and made a special apology to him because he was a victim of the false reports and was wrongly accused," Joyu's spokesman Akitoshi Hirosue said.

Joyu, 44, acknowledged that he lied to the media as the then spokesman for the cult, Hirosue said. Joyu has also previously sent Kono written apologies but this was the first face-to-face meeting.

Seen as a moderate in the Aum cult, Joyu in March defected with some 65 followers to break away from the sect's apocalyptic-minded founder Shoko Asahara.

The bearded, half-blind Asahara is on death row for the nerve gas attacks.

Joyu's splinter group, named Hikari no Wa ("Circle of Brilliance") has about 200 members including new recruits.

But Japanese authorities allege that Joyu was merely posing and questioned his meeting with Kono.

"It may be a performance to show that he is not tainted by the Matsumoto case and that he has parted" from the main cult, Kyodo News quoted an official of Japan's Public Security Intelligence Agency as saying.

The Aum cult has also apologised for the attacks. It has renamed itself Aleph -- after the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet -- and deposed Asahara, but authorities say hardcore followers still revere him.

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