Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara proposed an attack in the Tokyo metropolitan area in March 1995 to avert the attention of investigative authorities and avoid a police raid, a key member of the cult testified Thursday.
Koichi Ishikawa, 30, former deputy chief of Aum's so-called household agency, took the witness stand before the Tokyo District Court for the first time, answering questions from defense lawyers and prosecutors in the trial of Yoshihiro Inoue regarding the night of March 18, 1995, two days before the deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subway system.
Inoue, who headed the cult's so-called ministry of intelligence, stands accused of taking part in the gas attack.
Ishikawa did not provide further details of the attack plan. He claimed that the conversation about the plan took place inside a vehicle among Asahara and five other senior cult members, including himself. He denied hearing anything more, explaining that Inoue leaned forward and pushed him aside.
He could not confirm whether Asahara actually ordered the gas attack.
Ishikawa also said he suggested he was ready to shoot himself with an Aum-manufactured gun in order to make the cult look like a victim of persecution.
Ishikawa, who said he tutored Asahara's daughter, was arrested in April 1995 for allegedly holding the daughter of a female follower against her will, but prosecutors later dropped the case.
Focus on lynching
Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara's 125th trial hearing Thursday shifted to the alleged lynching of cult follower Shuji Taguchi in February 1989.
The lynching of the 21-year-old cultist at Aum's headquarters in Fujinomiya, Shizuoka Prefecture, is the sixth of 17 criminal charges Asahara is being tried for before the Tokyo District Court.
Prosecutors Thursday questioned former cult figure Kazuaki Okazaki, 38, who admitted being involved in the Taguchi slaying and has been sentenced to death.
Okazaki testified that he and five other followers were ordered by Asahara to kill Taguchi because he was trying to escape from the cult and said was capable of killing the guru.
Asahara wanted to prevent Taguchi from leaving because he had witnessed the death of another cultist during training at an Aum facility in 1988, Okazaki said.
Okazaki claimed he and three other followers, including the cult's science technology chief, the late Hideo Murai, together strangled Taguchi with a rope on Asahara's orders.
"I'm terribly sorry and regret what I have done," said Okazaki, who was sentenced to death in October for his involvement in the Taguchi case and the killing of an anti-Aum lawyer and his family in November 1989. He is appealing the ruling to a higher court.
Prosecutors also questioned Tomomitsu Niimi, 35, who was allegedly involved in the strangling, but Niimi, remaining faithful to Asahara, refused to testify in the case.
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