The Public Security Examination Commission has decided to keep the Aum Shinrikyo cult under surveillance for another three years, sources said.
The Public Security Investigation Agency has asked the commission to extend the surveillance period beyond Jan. 31, when the current surveillance authority lapses. It believes that the cult, which launched a fatal gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, is still a threat to the public and is capable of indiscriminate mass murder.
The commission is headed by Kozo Fujita, a former Hiroshima High Court president. It is discussing in detail its decision and is expected to make a formal decision as early as Monday. The decision will be announced in the government gazette at the end of January.
The cult, renamed Aleph in January 2000, is considered likely to file a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court demanding a revocation of the extension if it is made official.
The Public Security Investigation Agency asked the security commission on Dec. 2 for permission to extend the surveillance.
The agency argued that Aum founder Chizuo Matsumoto, accused of masterminding the sarin gas attack on the subway system and currently jailed while on trial, still wields power over the cult and can order indiscriminate mass killings.
Aleph is currently headed by Fumihiro Joyu, a former senior Aum official.
The agency also argued that high-ranking cultists, including Joyu, who were senior members at the time of the subway attack, are still active. It added that Aum advocated a secret doctrine ordering followers to kill.
Acting under the current surveillance authority, the agency has kept 88 Aum facilities in 16 prefectures under watch since February 2000. It has submitted some 400 pieces of evidence to support its belief that the sect remains a threat.
Aleph filed a petition on Dec. 24 with the security commission asking it to reject the surveillance extension. On Jan. 8, Joyu met with members of the security commission at the Justice Ministry in a closed hearing and argued that his group no longer poses the threat of mass killings.
In making its case, the group said it has taken steps to prevent a repeat of such an attack and the surveillance has outlived its usefulness.
Matsumoto, 47, is commonly known as Shoko Asahara. He has been on trial since April 1996 for his role in the March 20, 1995, subway attack that left 12 people dead and thousands injured, as well as for other crimes attributed to Aum. He denies the charges.