NAGANO, Japan -- Police on Tuesday morning raided two prefabricated buildings in the mountain village of Kawakami in Nagano Prefecture, central Japan, believed to have been set up by the AUM Shinrikyo religious cult.
Police said they believe the buildings are on land that was bought by a 39-year-old male cult follower.
The man, whom police say is one of the cult's longest-standing members, apparently bought the 17-hectares of forested land in September 1996 from a villager for 17 million yen.
The buyer pretended to be the president of a campsite management company in Tokyo, investigators said. Furthermore, he signed purchase documents using the name of a 38-year-old man who was not related to the deal, they said.
The AUM Shinrikyo released a statement following the raid, calling it "a carefully engineered act of religious suppression, which is part of a current trend in which Japan is becoming a nation of war, including the planned enactment of defense guidelines bills."
"We are only looking for a place to live, and we are not behaving in ways that would be a nuisance to neighbors. We have, from the beginning, called for dialogue to resolve our problems, and we strongly doubt (the legitimacy of) the authorities' barbarous methods of implementing large-scale suppression," the statement said.
The "problems" are believed to refer to the cult's difficulties in setting up its facilities in the aftermath of the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway.
For instance, 14 local governments in the prefectures of Nagano, Saitama, Ibaraki, Yamanashi and Gifu have banded together to form a "liaison group of cities, towns and villages to cope with the AUM Shinrikyo." The group is urging the central government to take a tougher stance against the cult.
In 1997, authorities decided not to disband AUM, even though many of its members had been accused of a string of highly publicized crimes, including the subway gassing.
The 14 governments include the Ibaraki town of Sanwa, which refused applications in April of 24 AUM members to have their residency registered in the town. Although town officials acknowledged that their move was illegal, they said the cult followers would "seriously damage local order."
AUM founder Shoko Asahara, whose legal name is Chizuo Matsumoto, and a number of other cult members have been charged with murder and attempted murder in connection with the series of crimes. The subway nerve gas attack killed 12 people and left more than 5,300 others injured.
Police say AUM still has some 2,100 members, including about 900 who live in AUM facilities at 19 locations throughout Japan.
Its major source of income is through the sale of computers. The business earned the cult more than 7 billion yen in 1998, according to police and security authorities