A Japanese doomsday cult bought a million acres of the Australian Outback so they could test a nerve agent on sheep before poisoning commuters on the Tokyo subway.
The leader of Aum Supreme Truth believed the terrorist strike would trigger a nuclear war between superpowers and wanted a remote location to hide out so their preparations would go unnoticed.
Two scouts, Kiyohide Hayakawa and Yoshihiro Inoue, were sent ahead in April 1993 with the task of finding a remote spot in the Australian Outback.
The pair eventually settled for Banjawam Station, 4,047 square kilometres of mulga and saltbush, about 14 hours' drive north-east of Perth.
The cult paid less than $500,000 for the land.
Over the next 18 months the group used the area to conduct experiments with the sarin nerve agent, a chemical weapon developed in Nazi Germany.
The experiments led to the attack on the Tokyo underground system in 1995 which killed 12 people and poisoned another 5,500 commuters.
A group of the sect’s 25 members, including their blind leader Shoko Asahara arrived in Perth on tourist visas on September 9,1993 and immediately caught the eye of customs officials, according to the Australian Federal Police magazine Platypus.
Despite arriving on tourist visas the group had brought with them mining equipment and chemicals including hydrochloric acid in sake bottles and glass jars marked “hand soap”.
Detective Leading Senior Constable Mark Creighton told the magazine an AFP officer noted the amount of excess baggage the group was carrying and the jars of acid they claimed were soap.
Customs officers seized ammonium chloride, sodium sulphate, perchloric acid and ammonium water, along with laboratory equipment.
Creighton said customs became suspicious of the group for other reasons.
He said: “Accompanying the group were six or seven Japanese girls who were under the age of 18.
“Their parents weren't with them and the thing that struck us at the time was that this might have been child abuse because Banjawarn Station is miles from anywhere.”
Despite the suspicions the group were allowed to continue through customs.
Arriving at Banjawam Station the group set up a laboratory in the homestead’s kitchen, complete with evaporators, Bunsen burners, beakers, a rock crushing machine and its own generator once the lab had been set up most of the group then flew home.
Those members who stayed bought chemicals locally to replace those that had been confiscated as well as earth moving equipment from Kalgoorlie, 350km south of the homestead.
While all this was going on the AFP were carrying out their own investigation and had contacted the National Police Agency of Japan and received information on the cult as well as Shoko Asahara’s criminal record.
Asahara had founded Shinrikyo Aum in Tokyo in 1984 and at its height is said to have had tens of thousands of followers.
In 1992 the leader declared himself to be Christ, identifying himself as the “Lamb of God”.
Among the sect’s strange beliefs and rituals, followers were encouraged to drink 30ml of Asahara’s bath water, which cost $300.
They were also encouraged to drink his blood which was said to give them enlightenment.
He prophesised a third world war, which in his mind would be initiated by the US and which only Aum members would survive.
The sect gained international infamy on March 20, 1995 when it launched the sarin attack on five Tokyo train stations.
The group had sold the homestead the previous August at a loss of $200,000 but following the attack, which drew worldwide attention, the new owners of the station contacted local police.
Investigators carried out searches and testing at the site, finding evidence of sarin experiments that had been conducted on sheep at the property.
They also found evidence the sect had plans to build a nuclear weapon and had used an excavator to dig up uranium.
Asahara was executed along with Kiyohide Hayakawa and Yoshihiro Inoue, the pair who had scouted Banjawarn, as well as Seiichi Endo, the so-called head scientist, and nine other sect members in July 2018.
Aum Shinrikyo was classified as a terrorist organisation and still exists under the name Aleph.
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