Keeping the cult out

There are an estimated 1,000 Aum followers

BBC News/March 19, 1999
By Juliet Hindell

The Japanese Aum Shinri Kyo doomsday cult blamed for the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo underground is on the move again.

The police estimate that it has 1,000 members and is actively buying up properties around the country to give those members a home, much to the alarm of their new neighbors.

New members of Aum insist that no cult members are preparing for deadly gas strikes, but the police and public are not prepared to trust the cult.

The cult has assured the BBC's Newsnight program that they are harmless, but many Japanese people still think they could kill again.

Protecting the villages

In the foothills of the Japanese Alps, the villagers of Kitamimaki are putting their lives on the line to protect the peace of their home.

"There is absolutely no change to their threat. Their threat has not been extinguished. In my opinion if they start causing confusion again or commit serous acts like the sarin attack they should be banned," said a local Kitamimaki police officer.

Kitamimaki residents have installed close circuit television, dug a trench of World War 1 proportions, and are mounting a 24 hour vigil against what they perceive as an evil force.

"Of course I could be a target. but that's not going to make me walk away. I will lay my life on the line. the truth is I'm scared but this isn't a time to be scared," says villager Masayoshi Mizushina.

When their enemy tried to force its way in one night, 500 locals drove them away, and constructed a barrage of barbed wire when the mysterious new owners of a house put up an aluminium wall.

Cult rock

But in Tokyo, the Aum House band Perfect Enlightenment, are back in public, confidently singing the words of their leader, Shoko Asahara.

And his followers are as dedicated as ever.

"I don't know how to express my feelings for the master Asahara. I cannot be thankful enough that he gave me the chance to follow this religious life," said one.

Shoko Asahara's trial for mass murder is still continuing, ironically right near one of the stations affected by the gas attack.

His followers and relatives of his victims compete for the lottery tickets needed to watch each session of the trial.

The lucky winners hear how at his headquarters on the slopes of Mount Fuji, he masterminded the manufacture of nerve gases such as sarin and VX, sent his followers to acquire lethal doses of anthrax and the ebola virus, and planned the murders of his critics.

But his trial is very complicated and could take 10 years to complete. In the meantime, the cult has been able to reorganize.

Computers fund cult

A recent documentary film about the cult shows them in a very different light: outsiders who are hassled by the authorities.

And on the streets of Akihabara, Tokyo's mecca for the latest hi-tech gadgets, the drummer from Perfect Enlightenment is a familiar face on computer store flyers.

Aum's computer shop Trisal is making millions of pounds for the cult by selling computers to people who are not concerned about where they come from.

And in Tokyo, even the authorities are scared of Aum.

The National Police Agency refused to be interviewed by the BBC. They have reason to be afraid: the police chief was shot and almost killed by Aum.

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