Tokyo - The government's intelligence agency said in a report released Saturday it estimates the AUM Shinrikyo cult, which has renamed itself Aleph, had approximately 1,500 followers as of Nov. 30, down by about 150 from 2000, the year in which the group was placed under watch by the government.
The Public Security Intelligence Agency attributed the decline chiefly to conflicts within the sect about how it should be run, and warned that despite the drop in members, the sect, blamed for the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system and other terrorizing acts, still poses a threat.
The information is contained in the Review and Prospect of Internal and External Situations for 2008, the agency's annual report on domestic and international security situations.
Among the 1,500 followers are 210 people who are said to support the former chief AUM spokesman Fumihiro Joyu, who claims to have left Aleph. The Joyu group increased its followers from 163 as of May 31, the agency says.
"Given that a majority of around 1,500 people had been initiated into the sect before the subway sarin incident, the dangerous nature (of the sect) remains unchanged," the report said.
The group was placed under watch in line with a law to regulate the activities of organizations that have engaged in indiscriminate mass murders that took effect in 1999 following a series of acts committed by AUM.