Russian members of Japan sect jailed in bomb plot

Reuters/January 23, 2002

Vladivostok, Russia -- Three Russian members of Japan's Aum Shinrikyo doomsday sect were jailed on Wednesday for planning to plant explosives in Japan to free their imprisoned guru.

A court in Russia's Pacific port of Vladivostok convicted the men of plotting to blackmail the Japanese government into freeing Aum leader Shoko Asahara, on trial for six years on charges of organising a 1995 gas attack in the Tokyo subway.

Investigators said the Russians were preparing to go to Japan and plant bombs that could be detonated from anywhere in the world using mobile phones.

"Of course, I remain a believer in Aum Shinrikyo, as I was up to my arrest. But our attitude toward our actions have changed -- of course we regret them," Dmitry Sigachyov, leader of the Russian group, said in his final court statement.

Sigachyov was sentenced to eight years in jail.

Co-defendants Boris Tupeiko and Dmitry Voronov were sentenced to 6.5 and 4.5 years respectively.

Alexander Shevchenko was handed a five year suspended jail sentence, and a fifth member of the group, Alexei Yorchuk, was certified insane.

Aum Shinrikyo was one of several cults that attracted a large following in the former Soviet Union, during the turmoil that followed the collapse of atheist communism in the 1990s.

Founded in 1993, the Russian branch of the sect ran half a dozen centres in Moscow and claimed 30,000 followers -- three times more than in Japan -- before it was banned by Moscow courts in 1995. Cult followers have denied any wrongdoing.

In a bid to project a new image, Aum Shinrikyo changed its name to Aleph -- the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet -- in January 2000.

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