Death Penalty Confirmed for Sarin Gas Attack Chemist

The Wall Street Journal/February 15, 2011

The chemist of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult who concocted the deadly nerve gas that killed a dozen people in the Tokyo subway in 1995 has received his final judgment. Japan's Supreme Court Tuesday rejected the final appeal by Masami Tsuchiya, one of the top lieutenants who masterminded the fatal attacks, confirming the death sentence passed on him in 2004.

Mr. Tsuchiya was one of 13 cult members sentenced to hang for their part in the chemical attack during the morning rush hour commute in central Tokyo on March 20, 1995: The attack killed 12 people and left up to 6,000 others seeking medical treatment, according to the U.S. State Department. The chemist, now 46, was convicted for his role in developing the liquid sarin used in what was Japan's most devastating terrorist attack in modern times.

Mr. Tsuchiya, who was not present in the courthouse during Tuesday's proceedings, was also previously convicted for producing sarin in an earlier attack in Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture in 1994, which killed seven people. In handing down its decision on Tuesday, the Supreme Court said Mr. Tsuchiya continued to develop the poison even after he recognized the disastrous consequences that resulted from the Matsumoto attack, showing that he played a crucial role in the crimes even if not physically present on the day. "Even if we consider that he was not directly involved in the murders, in this case the death penalty cannot be avoided," the Supreme Court said in its ruling according to Japanese state broadcaster NHK.

The leader of the cult, Shoko Asahara, already sits on death row. He was sentenced to death in February 2004, ending an eight-year trial that found him guilty of 13 crimes. Mr. Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, lost his final appeal to overturn his death sentence in September 2006. In all, the death sentence has been finalized for 10 of the 13 found guilty, according to NHK.

The cult remains active today with about 1,500 followers and 34 facilities across the country, according to 2009 statistics compiled by Japanese authorities maintaining surveillance on the group. But membership numbers have dropped sharply from its peak in the 1990s when it reached the tens of thousands.

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