One-fourth of doomsday cult followers returned to group

Associated Press/February 13, 2004

Tokyo -- More than a quarter of the members of a doomsday cult arrested over a deadly gas attack on Tokyo's subways returned to the group after they were released or served their prison terms, a report said Friday. Followers of the Aum Shinrikyo cult released sarin nerve gas on three Tokyo subway lines on March 20, 1995, killing 12 people and sickening about 5,000.

Despite a police crackdown, the cult has regrouped under a new name, Aleph. It has about 1,000 members and remains under surveillance by Japan's Public Security Intelligence Agency.

Between March 1995 and January this year, police arrested 450 people over the attack. Of those, 120 rejoined Aleph, including 10 who were allegedly involved in serious crimes such as manufacturing illegal guns and helping build the plant to produce sarin, the Mainichi newspaper said, citing a security agency investigation.

Upon re-entering the cult, some were promoted to higher ranks for ``carrying out (the group's) beliefs and accumulating good deeds,'' the Mainichi said, quoting an unidentified agency official.

Agency officials weren't immediately available for comment.

The agency is required by law to report on the cult's activities every year. It has strengthened its surveillance ahead of a scheduled court verdict for the cult's guru, Shoko Asahara, on Feb. 27, the newspaper said.

Asahara, who once claimed more than 10,000 followers, faces a possible death sentence if convicted of masterminding the subway attacks.

So far, 11 of Asahara's followers have been sentenced to death in connection with several cult attacks, including the one on the subways. None has yet been executed.

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