Although AUM Shinrikyo pledged to the world that it had turned over a new leaf earlier this year when it announced it had changed its name to Aleph, the doomsday cult was merely acting on orders their guru, accused mass murderer Shoko Asahara, issued years ago, the Mainichi has learned. In the wake of the lethal gas attack on Tokyo subways, which AUM members have confessed to carrying out, Asahara in November 1995 instructed cult followers to adopt the Aleph name in what appears to have been an attempt to circumvent efforts to outlaw AUM, police documents that the Mainichi obtained show.
Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) officials believe that the name change indicates Asahara continues to exert great influence over the doomsday cult, even though its current leaders claimed to have effectively disowned him. Officials at the MPD's Public Security Bureau said the documents, dated November 1995, that indicate Asahara's role in AUM's alleged new public face were seized in a raid on a cult office in Yokohama in February.
The documents apparently outlined a conversation between the guru and his lawyer, in which Asahara issued instructions for cult members regarding an alteration of the group's status from a religious corporation to a voluntary group. Among the first orders Asahara issued was one to change the cult's name to Aleph.
Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and AUM ran a company of the same name.
In November 1995, the Public Security Investigation Agency scoured AUM records to determine whether the cult should be disbanded under the Anti-Subversive Activities Law. Although officials later decided not to force the cult to break up, the possibility that AUM would be ordered to disband was extremely high at the time the letter was composed.
Public Security Bureau officials said Asahara ordered the name change to make it appear as though the cult had reformed itself and could thus avoid being targeted by the Anti-Subversive Activities Law.
Although AUM escaped and returned in strength, new laws were passed in December that strictly controlled the cult's activities. In January, then cult leader Tatsuko Muraoka announced a set of reforms the cult promised to undertake to clean up its act. Among the changes Muraoka promised to implement were changing the cult's name to Aleph, and declaring Asahara as a "spiritual being" with no authority over the group's direction.
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