September 16, 2006
TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -- Japanese officials on Saturday raided a cult that carried out a deadly gas attack on the Tokyo subway, a day after the country's top court confirmed a death sentence on the group's former leader.
About 250 officials descended on 25 locations connected with the cult formerly known as Aum Shinri Kyo, to check for any unexpected reaction to the news that former guru Shoko Asahara, 51, is to hang for the 1995 attack, the Public Security Intelligence Agency said.
"Our aim is to prevent any illegal activities by cult members in response to the confirmation of Asahara's death sentence," said an agency official. "Of course, we basically want to put the public's mind at rest."
The agency would quiz members of the cult, which has split in two since the attack, and examine computer and other data, he said.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, on Friday lost a Supreme Court appeal against his sentence for masterminding the rush hour gas attack that killed 12 and injured about 5,500, some of them permanently, using sarin gas.
His lawyers had argued that he was mentally incompetent and called for the case to be suspended.
The nearly blind Asahara studied yoga and started a school to teach it, going on to set up the cult in 1987, mixing Buddhist and Hindu meditation with apocalyptic teachings.
Japan does not announce dates of executions, which are by hanging, in advance of them being carried out.
Although in theory the sentence should be completed within six months, Japanese media say Asahara is unlikely to hang until the trials of his accomplices are over.
Japanese media expressed dissatisfaction with Matsumoto's trial, which lasted about a decade and revealed little of his motivation, because he remained silent during much of the legal process.
"Many family members of those killed who attended the hearings talked of their loss of hope in the trial, saying it had been a waste of time," the daily Yomiuri Shimbun said in an analysis.