Japan's top court upholds death sentence for Tokyo gas attacker

Associated Press/July 20, 2007

Tokyo: Japan's top court upheld a death sentence against a doomsday cult member who played a direct role in the fatal 1995 gassing of the Tokyo subway system, a court official said Friday.

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Aum Shinrikyo cult member Masato Yokoyama, 43, upholding lower court rulings that sentenced him to death, according to court official Naoki Katayama.

Yokoyama was charged with murder for his role in the March 1995 attack, in which cult followers punctured plastic bags of sarin gas on rush-hour subway trains, killing 12 people and sickening thousands.

Before the attack, the cult had amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with the government.

More than a dozen death sentences have been handed out to members of Aum Shinrikyo, but none of them have been executed under Japan's slow judicial system.

Former Aum guru Shoko Asahara is on death row for 27 killings, including those in the subway attack.

Aum, now renamed Aleph, once had 10,000 members in Japan and another 30,000 in Russia. It remains under close police surveillance.

Authorities say membership has shrunk to about 1,650 in Japan and 300 in Russia. The group split into factions in recent years, including one that remains close to Asahara's family.

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