AUM SHINROKYO CULT AND THE TOKYO SUBWAY SARIN GAS ATTACK

AUM SHINROKYO CULT TOKYO SUBWAY POISON GAS ATTACK


sarin gas attack
On March 22, 1995, sarin, a lethal nerve gas invented gas invented by the Nazis during World War II, was released by members of the Aum Shinrokyo cult on three Tokyo subway trains during the morning rush hour. The attack left 12 dead, 3,807 seriously injured and sickened 6,300 others. One victim who stayed in a train for about 40 minutes without realizing what had happened said he still had shuddered headaches and weight loss 15 years after the attack. Another victim died in 2008 after spending 14 years in a coma.

The Tokyo subway attack was reportedly intended by Aum to "set off massive confusion in the Tokyo area" and divert the attention of the police who were believed to be planning a raid of the cult's headquarters. It was also apparently an effort by cult members to spark the cataclysmic Armageddon that Asahara had predicted and "purify" Japan through global violence.

The last major terrorist attack in Japan before the 1995 Aum subway gassing was a bomb detonated by in a radical leftist group in 1974 in the central Tokyo business district that killed eight people and injured nearly 400.

The poison gas was placed in containers disguised as school lunch boxes and soft-drink containers. It was released simultaneously in five subway cars on three trains heading towards Kasumigaseki, an area of Tokyo where most of the top government agencies have their offices. If the trains hadn’t stopped when the gas was released they all would have arrived at Kasumigaseki station between 8:09am and 8:14am.

Aum leaders gave instructions to perfume the sarin gas, saying "If it smells good like flowers, people will want to inhale it." It has been calculated that if full-strength sarin had been used and disseminated more efficiently, tens of thousands might have been killed.

One of the perpetrators wore sun glasses and s surgical mask (not uncommon in Asia) and boarded the eighth car of a train on the Hibiya line. According to witnesses, he started messing around with a package wrapped in newspapers almost immediately after he boarded the train. At the next stop he set the package on the floor and got off the train. The package started releasing a foul-smelling liquid.

The members of the cult that carried out the crime were reportedly given rice cakes and juice as a reward by Asahara who told them, "Mediate. And chant ten thousand times the phrase, 'This is good, with the blessing of the guru, the great god Shiba and al the victors of truth."

Tokyo Subway Attack Victims


sarin gas attack
An Irishman who boarded the Hibuya line train told Time that the package released a liquid that formed "a pool of oily water on the floor. I noticed this quite offensive smell that I can't really describe."

About 11 minutes after the man boarded the train the commuters on the train panicked. An Austrian student in the car told Time, "Everyone just ran off, and I didn't know what was going on. Someone yelled, 'It's gas!'" A man seen lying unconscious next to the puddle was one of the 12 victims.

"I saw a dozen people on the platform who had either collapsed or were on their knees unable to stand up," photographer Nobuo Serizawa told Time. "One man was thrashing around on the floor like a fish out of water."

Victims coughed violently, choked and staggered. Tears streamed from their eyes. Speaking became difficult. Some were temporarily blinded; some foamed at the mouth; others vomited. The worst victims were rigid and bled from their mouths and noses. Emergency squads arrived at the scene of the five affected subway stations within minutes. Victims wisked away to the hospital were treated with atropine, a sarin antidote.

Two of the dead were station attendants at Kasumigaseki Station. Kasumasa Takahashi, a 50-year-old salaryman, entered a subway car filled with poison gas and picked up a 6-inch-high package spewing out the foul-smelling stuff and wrapped it in newspaper and carried it to the platform. As he reached down to mop up some drops that leaked on the platform with his handkerchief he lost consciousness. Regarded as hero, Takahashi died later in the hospital.

Some survivors of the gas attack still have posttraumatic stress disorders and breathing and health problems. Some victims are is very sorry shape. One woman is bedridden and for all intents and purposes a vegetable. Another was still in bed in a coma as of December 2006.

A law enacted in 2008 provides up to ¥30 million in compensation to each Aum victim and bereaved family. A total of 5,958 people applied for government aid for victims. As of October 2010, ¥2.74 billion had been paid to 5,784 of these applicants.

Aum victims received ¥1.6 billion collectively in assistance payments from the government. Individual victims or their families are eligible for government benefits that range from between $1,000 and $300,000. As of 2009, only 17.3 percent of 6,600 people eligible had applied for the benefits.

Aum Shinrokyo and Chemical and Biological Weapons


sarin gas attack clips
Among the information leaked to press during the trial of Shoko Asahara was that cult planned to kill thousands by spraying sarin over Tokyo with a helicopter; that it attempted to purchase nuclear weapons and develop germ-warfare weapons; and it planned to set up an Aum Shinrokyo theocracy by assassinating the Japanese Emperor and spraying LSD mist on Tokyo politicians.

Aum Shinrokyo reportedly had connections with the yakuza and North Korea, and manufactured weapons and illegal drugs. Members of the cult reportedly received weapons training and learned how to make sarin from a Russian special-forces squad. In 1992, Aum purchased a machine factory and used it to make parts for AK-47s. Memos obtained by investigators indicated that the cult had plans to buy tanks and submarines from Russia and tried to purchase a laser interferometer (a laser welding machine) and other sophisticated devises.

Sarin is an odorless highly- lethal nerve gas invented by the Nazis during World War II and used in a deadly subway attack in Japan. It can be sprayed from the air or dispersed from the ground and fired in artillery shells. It penetrates through the skin, eyes and respiratory system, and blocks transmissions of impulses through the central nervous system, causing convulsions, respiratory paralysis and death. Early symptoms include a runny nose, severe headaches, chest tightness, drooling, sweating and nausea. A lethal doses in 1,700 milligrams on the skin and 70 milligrams inhaled.

Aum Shinrokyo owned a sheep ranch in Australia where it tested nerve gas and tried to mine uranium. It purchased nerve gas testing equipment from Russia and tried to buy laser equipment and gas masks from the United States. A medical team from Aum was sent to Zaire to investigate the outbreak of the Ebola virus that occurred there, obtain samples of the virus, and investigate the possibility of using the virus in biological weapons. Aum members had also looked into using smallpox and yellow fever in bio-weapons. It tried to synthesize green mamba venom, and made efforts to cultivate the anthrax and botulism virus.

In April 1990, cult members sprayed botulism germs (the strongest known toxins against humans) from three trucks that drove through the streets of greater Tokyo. No one got sick because the germs dispersed and quickly died. The members then switched their attention to anthrax because it remains potentially dangerous for a much longer time.

Events Before the Tokyo Subway Attack

In June, 1994, seven people were killed in a sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, a town in central Japan. More that 200 others were sickened, including three judges involved in a court case against the cult related to a land dispute.

Asahara reportedly said, “Spray sarin at the court (in Matsumoto) and find out if it really works.” Aum radio broadcasters said that sarin gas had been used in Matsumoto attacks but didn't reveal that Aum used it.

On March 5, 1995, more than 10 people were taken to the hospital complaining of eye and respiratory pain after inhaling mysterious fumes in a train car in Yokohama, near Tokyo. The source of the fumes was never very found. On March 15, 1995, three vapor-emitting attache cases are discovered at a Tokyo subway station, each contain three tanks with an unknown liquid and small battery-powered fans. Similar parts are later discovered at a Aum Shinrokyo facility.

More Violence Associated with Aum Shinrokyo


sarin gas attack
On March 30, 1995 Takaji Kumimatsu, head of the National Police Agency, was shot and seriously wounded by an unidentified gunman. Aum denied involvement but around the same time the news media received anonymous calls threatening more violence unless investigation of the cult were stopped. Kumimatsu survived the shooting. See Police in Japan

On April 23, Hideo Murai, head of Aum’s "Science Ministry," was stabbed to death by a self-described rightist in front of reporters, photographer, television cameras and police. Suspected of being the mastermind behind the production the poison gas, Murai was being questioned by police about the cult's activities. Photographs of the dying cult members were displayed all over the world and television footage of the stabbing was showed in slow motion over and over again on Japanese television. Murai tied from a wound that penetrated his liver. His last words were, "I am innocent." The man who killed Murai said he committed the murder to preserve the honor of Emperor Akihito.

The Aum Shinrokyo cult was also linked to a letter bomb sent to Tokyo Governor Yukio Asoshima's office in May, 1995. In June, 1995 a member of Aum Shinrokyo squirted poison over an a man trying to kill him. Another member tried to hijack a plane with an ice pick.

In 1999, the sister of gas attack victim, who had sued the cult, was kidnapped. Her kidnappers said the woman would be released if the suit was dropped. The woman was released unhurt.

Other Poison Gas Attacks in Japan

On April 19, 1995 chaos broke out at a Yokohama subway station when an unidentified foul-smelling gas was released. About 500 people are taken to the hospital with cough fits, stinging eyes and dizziness but nobody was seriously hurt.

On April 23, a "copycat" attack occurs in a Yokohama shopping center. Twenty-four people were sent to the hospital with stinging eyes and sore throats. Police were unable to identify the gas or the source. Aum denied involvement.

On May 5, a serious disaster was averted when a policeman extinguishes two bags of burning chemicals placed near a ventilation duct in a men's room at Shinjuku station, one of Tokyo’s main train station. If the chemicals from the bag had combined they could have produced enough hydrocyanic gas to kill at least 10,000 people in seconds.

Ex-Prosecutor: 'Aum Made Preparations to Topple the Government'

The Aum Supreme Truth cult made plans to topple the Japanese government and a may have succeeded in taking power for a short period by committing mass murder in Tokyo with 70 tons of deadly sarin gas and 1,000 automatic rifles, a former Supreme Court justice said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 23, 2011]

Tatsuo Kainaka, who led investigations on Aum-related crimes as deputy chief prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office before becoming a Supreme Court justice, told Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Akihiro Ishihara that after the sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture the cult destroyed part of its Satian No. 7 facility, where sarin gas was manufactured, in Kamikuishikimura to disguise the building as an authentic religious facility, and stopped sarin production. At that time, the cult was planning to overthrow the government. The group planned to commit mass murder by aerially spraying 70 tons of sarin gas around the Kasumigaseki area and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Then, amid the confusion, Aum followers armed with automatic rifles would take control of the capital, according to the plan. Mass production of sarin was supposed to start after the Matsumoto attack.

The cult bought a helicopter for spraying sarin, and succeeded in making a prototype of an automatic rifle. They had trained their followers. If the plan had been actually carried out, Aum could have controlled the capital, perhaps even for a few days. At that time, the National Police Agency was the only law enforcement organization with information linking Aum with sarin gas.

Raids on Aum Shinrokyo Facilities

On March 22, some 2,500 police officers began making raids at 25 Aum Shinrokyo facilities located around the country. More than one thousand police descended on the Aum Shinrokyo commune in the Mt. Fuji foothills.

Hours before the raid, Asahara broadcast a two-minute appeal to followers, saying "The time has come for you to help me" and signed off with the plea, "Let's die without any regrets." In a video at the cult's 36 branches, Asahara said he had been the target of a poison gas attack orchestrated by the United States.

Police approached the main facilities at the Mt. Fuji commune with caged canaries to detect poison gas. Inside the commune investigators found 50 malnourished cult members laying on blankets in small cubicles. The members said they were fasting voluntarily. Malnourished members were taken to the hospital.

Investigators found "several tens of liters" of sarin gas in a secret laboratory. Only 10 liters were used in the subway attacks. Most of the poison gas was reportedly destroyed to cover up the evidence. The raids uncovered a Russian-made military helicopter, 22 pounds of gold, stacks of cash worth $7.9 million, gun parts, chemicals used to make explosives and evidence of biological weapons.

The chemical lab at the Mt. Fuji commune was hidden behind an enormous Styrofoam relief of the Hindu god Shiva. Over the next several weeks, police discovered tons of chemicals such as sodium cyanide, sodium fluoride, isopropyl alcohol and acetonitrile, which one newspaper estimated could produce enough poison gas to kill 4.2 million people. People living around the commune had reported leaves suddenly turning brown on trees and strange odors.

Ex-Prosecutor: 'Aum Made Preparations to Topple the Government'

The Aum Supreme Truth cult made plans to topple the Japanese government and a may have succeeded in taking power for a short period by committing mass murder in Tokyo with 70 tons of deadly sarin gas and 1,000 automatic rifles, a former Supreme Court justice said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.[Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, November 23, 2011]

Tatsuo Kainaka, who led investigations on Aum-related crimes as deputy chief prosecutor at the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office before becoming a Supreme Court justice, told Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Akihiro Ishihara that after the sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture the cult destroyed part of its Satian No. 7 facility, where sarin gas was manufactured, in Kamikuishikimura to disguise the building as an authentic religious facility, and stopped sarin production. At that time, the cult was planning to overthrow the government. The group planned to commit mass murder by aerially spraying 70 tons of sarin gas around the Kasumigaseki area and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Then, amid the confusion, Aum followers armed with automatic rifles would take control of the capital, according to the plan. Mass production of sarin was supposed to start after the Matsumoto attack.

The cult bought a helicopter for spraying sarin, and succeeded in making a prototype of an automatic rifle. They had trained their followers. If the plan had been actually carried out, Aum could have controlled the capital, perhaps even for a few days. At that time, the National Police Agency was the only law enforcement organization with information linking Aum with sarin gas.

Image Sources: YouTube

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated August 2012

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