Former cultist sentenced to life over Tokyo subway gassing


MSNBC News, Associated Press, February 17, 2000

TOKYO, Feb. 17 - A former doomsday cult member was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for his role in the 1995 Tokyo subway gassing that killed 12 people and sickened thousands.

The Tokyo District Court returned the verdict in the case against Kiyotaka Tonozaki, 31, a court official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity. Tonozaki was one of 14 Aum Shinri Kyo cult members indicted on murder charges in the 1995 sarin gas attack.

On the morning of March 20, 1995, Tonozaki drove fellow cult member Masato Yokoyama to a subway station. Yokoyama was one of a squad of five cultists who released the nerve gas in subway trains.

Yokoyama was sentenced to death in September last year by the same court.

Presiding Judge Takao Nakayama told the court Thursday that Tonozaki played an ''essential role'' in the attack by working with accomplices in advance, Kyodo News agency said.

During the trial, Tonozaki apologized to victims of the gassing. He later quit the cult.

Under a recently enacted special law, Japanese authorities last month placed the cult under strict surveillance for up to three years because of fears the group is reviving.

The group has recently admitted for the first time that its founder, Shoko Asahara, played a role in the gas attack. Asahara, 44, is on trial on various charges, including murder.

The cult, which is believed to have some 2,000 followers in Japan, recently changed its name to ''Aleph,'' the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.


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