Japan Says Doomsday Cult Growing

The Associated Press/April 13, 2001

Tokyo -- The doomsday cult behind the 1995 deadly gassing on the Tokyo subways is growing steadily and reasserting influence through the Internet, the government said Friday.

Aum Shinri Kyo membership has grown by about 150, or 10 percent, with at least 1,650 followers by the end of last year, the Justice Ministry said in a report submitted to the Cabinet. About 650 of them are carrying out cult activities at group homes and facilities, it said.

The group was responsible for the sarin gas attack on March 20, 1995 that killed 12 people and sickened thousands. The incident has shaken people's sense of security in Japan, which has enjoyed a relatively low crime rate.

The report said that on the surface the group has changed its name, acknowledged its responsibility for the subway gassing and apologized. But fundamentally, it remains the same.

"The group's dangerous nature has not changed even though no poisonous substances or ingredients have been found at their facilities," the report said. "Its deceptive nature is unchanged."

Investigators at the Public Safety Agency have found 29 Aum facilities and 200 apartment houses in 10 onsite inspections.

The cult, which now calls itself Aleph, is expanding its computer-related business and raking in profits from its 13 companies. Under influential leader Fumihiro Joyu's "cyber cult" plan, the group continues spreading its "dangerous" teachings on the Net, the report said.

Joyu, jailed guru Shoko Asahara's most-trusted aide, was released from prison in December 1999 and is considered the cult's de facto leader.

The cult also earns funds by charging expensive fees through the sale of books and compact discs containing Asahara's teachings and seminars.

The group is moving to expand overseas as well, said the report, which did not specify where.

The cult is by law under Public Safety Agency surveillance. The Justice Ministry is responsible for publishing the cult's activities in an annual report. The latest update is for the period between May 16 and December 31, 2000.

Judges have handed down death sentences to several former leaders in the gas attack and other killings. Guru Shoko Asahara is still on trial for masterminding the 1995 gassing and 16 other charges.

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