Police raid Japanese cult

BBC News/February 16, 2004

Japanese police have raided offices of the cult that attacked the Tokyo subway with deadly sarin gas in 1995.

Some 200 police officers stormed into the main office of the former Aum Shinrikyo cult in Tokyo, while smaller units checked 10 other locations.

The local media said the raids were the biggest since the cult reorganised and renamed itself Aleph in 2000.

The raids came just days before the expected court verdict on Aum cult leader, Shoko Asahara.

The Kyodo news agency said the raids, which involved the scrutiny of documents and computer disks, were aimed at preventing the group from taking any action related to the verdict on Mr Asahara.

An official at the Public Security Intelligence Agency told the Associated Press that members had shown greater devotion to Mr Asahara in recent months, raising fears of a possible terror attack to coincide with his ruling.

No immediate arrests were reported in the raids.

Mr Asahara - whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto - is expected to face the death penalty if found guilty of murder for masterminding the sarin attack in which 12 people died and about 5,000 others were injured.

Eleven other members of the cult have already been sentenced to death, but have appealed, and as such, have not yet been executed.

A feature of the Aum Shinrikyo case has been its marathon length.

The hearings have involved 189 people, and will climax with the verdict on Mr Asahara, due on 27 February.

The Aum cult leader has remained silent throughout most of his trial.

As well as the deaths caused by the subway gas attack in 1995, Mr Asahara is also charged with the 15 other killings alleged to have been carried out by the cult.

They include ordering a 1994 attack in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto in which seven people were killed and 144 injured.

The group has now renounced violence, but the Japanese authorities still operate tight surveillance over it.

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