Japan arrests gas attack cult fugitive
TOKYO — A former member of Japan’s Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult responsible for the 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway was arrested by police on Sunday, reports said.
Police officers found a woman believed to be Naoko Kikuchi, 40, a former Aum member who had been on the run for more than 17 years, in the city of Sagamihara west of Tokyo, public broadcaster NHK said.
Kikuchi, one of only two remaining Aum fugitives at large, is believed to have been part of the cult team responsible for producing the sarin nerve gas used in the subway attack which killed 13 people.
As well as those who died, thousands more were injured, some of them seriously and permanently by inhaling or coming into contact with the gas, which cripples the nervous system.
Sarin was also used in an attack by the cult on the city of Matsumoto in central Japan a year earlier. Eight people died.
Officers were tipped off by informers. When they approached the woman and asked if she was Kikuchi, she said “Yes”, NHK reported.
The woman was immediately taken to Tokyo’s metropolitan police department, where she was later confirmed to be Kikuchi and arrested on charges of murder, NHK said.
Tokyo police spokesmen said they could not confirm the details immediately.
The case follows the surrender of Makoto Hirata, 47, a former Aum member who gave himself up to officers at a police station in central Tokyo minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Kikuchi’s reported arrest would leave only one person, Katsuya Takahashi, 54, still at large on the Aum wanted list.
Aum guru Shoko Asahara preached a blend of Buddhist and Hindu dogma mixed with apocalyptic messages, and developed an obsession with sarin gas, becoming paranoid that his enemies would attack him with it.
According to prosecutors the cult wanted to disrupt police moves to crack down on them and at the same time enact Asahara’s vision of an apocalyptic war.
Asahara was arrested at a commune near Mount Fuji two months after the attack on Tokyo and sentenced to hang, having been convicted of crimes resulting in the deaths of more than two dozen people. He remains on death row.
The guru used a mix of charisma, mysticism and raw power to commit one of Japan’s most shocking crimes with his disciples, who included doctors and engineers educated at elite Japanese institutions.