Japanese on run for 17 years relieved at arrest

Associated Press/June 4, 2012

Tokyo -- A woman wanted for 17 years for allegedly helping to produce the deadly nerve gas used in a 1995 attack on Tokyo subways said she feels relief at her arrest because she doesn't have to hide her identity anymore, police said Monday.

Naoko Kikuchi is a former member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that released the nerve gas sarin in Tokyo's subways in 1995, killing 13 people and injuring more than 6,000. The cult had amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with the government.

Police on Sunday arrested Kikuchi, 40, after she was spotted in Sagamihara city, 30 kilometers (20 miles) southwest of Tokyo, where she had been living since 2010. She admitted who she was when officers approached her.

She was one of two remaining cult members wanted as murder suspects in the case.

Kikuchi has admitted to helping in the sarin production, but told investigators that she didn't know at that time what the substance was, a Tokyo Metropolitan Police spokesman said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules.

She also admitted to using an alias and moving every few years to avoid detection.

"I had to hide my identity and used an alias all these years while I was on the run. Now I'm arrested and I don't have to do that anymore. I feel relieved," the police quoted her as saying.

Investigators had to verify her identity by fingerprints and a mole on the right cheek as her appearance had changed substantially from the way she looked in wanted posters due to weight loss over the years.

A man claiming to have lived with Kikuchi for the past six years turned himself in Monday, the police spokesman said.

Hiroto Takahashi, 41, said the couple moved to an apartment in Sagamihara in 2010, police said. He was arrested on suspicion of hiding a suspect.

Police searched the apartment for clues about Kikuchi's 17-year hideout and that may lead to the one remaining fugitive, Katsuya Takahashi, 54, who is not related to Kikuchi's partner.

Nearly 200 members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult have been convicted in the gas attack and dozens of other crimes. Thirteen, including cult guru Shoko Asahara, are on death row.

Makoto Hirata, charged in a 1995 cult-related kidnapping-murder, as well as the subway attack, surrendered to police on New Year's Eve, ending his 17-year life on the run and stunning the nation.

The cult, renamed Aleph, once had 10,000 members in Japan and claimed another 30,000 in Russia. It still has hundreds of members. The cult is under police surveillance and its new leaders have publicly disavowed Asahara.

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