Driver for cult who killed subway users with gas arrested
JAPAN HAS closed a chapter on one of its most shocking post-war episodes with the capture of the last remaining fugitive from the deadly doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo.
The arrest of Katsuya Takahashi ended a 17-year hunt that began after cultists released sarin gas on Tokyo’s underground train system. The attack, in 1995, killed 13 people, injured thousands and terrorised the world’s most populated metropolis.
Takahashi (54) was tracked down in an internet/comic book cafe in Tokyo after a tip-off to the police, who had offered a reward for his capture.
A former bodyguard for the cult’s blind guru, Shoko Asahara, Takahashi was a driver for one of the teams that took packets of sarin gas on to packed rush-hour trains on March 20th, 1995. The cultists used umbrellas sharpened with a file to puncture the packets then fled, leaving behind hundreds of sickened and dying commuters.
The crime, using a gas developed by the Nazis and infamously used by Saddam Hussein against Kurds in 1988, stunned Japan.
Many of the cultists were science graduates of the best universities. Some were senior doctors and clean-cut professionals with elite careers before they were bewitched by Asahara’s apocalyptic blend of Buddhism, Hinduism and extreme paranoia.
Journalists who exposed the cult were targeted for execution, disciples who tried to quit were murdered. Lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, who launched a class action suit against Aum, was killed with his wife and child by cultists who broke into his apartment.
Apparently convinced the authorities were closing in, Asahara ordered his disciples to gas Tokyo’s subway.
The victims included Irishman Michael Kennedy, who was working in Japan at the time. Like many, he struggled to recover from the attack. “I slept very little for three weeks,” he said in the book Underground.
All the ringleaders of the attack are now behind bars and 200 have been convicted. Asahara was captured two months after the attack and sentenced to death in 2004. He is awaiting execution, along with 12 former disciples.
The cult he founded survives after reinventing itself as Aleph. It is under heavy police surveillance but remains, for some, a danger.