World Media

Japan executes cult guru, 6 followers for 1995 sarin attack

Japanese doomsday cult leader Shoko Asahara had been on death row for masterminding the 1995 deadly Tokyo subway gassing

On 20 March 1995, cult members released the Sarin on the Tokyo subway. They killed a lawyer and his family because he was a cult opponent, and they tested sarin in an earlier attack that killed seven and injured dozens in a city in northern Japan.

The justice ministry would not immediately confirm that Asahara had been hanged, nor reports that several other cult members would also be put to death Friday. Contaminated plastic bags were left on five different subway lines, making more than 1,000 others sick, and at least 4,000 people went to the hospital due to anxiety and trauma, NBC News reports.

This combination of file photos shows, from the top left to right, Aum Shinrikyo cult leader Shoko Asahara and his cult members, Tomomasa Nakagawa, Seiichi Endo, and Masami Tsuchiya.

In this picture taken on July 19, 1995, Shoko Asahara (C), head of the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, is transferred from Tokyo police headquarters to Tokyo District Court for questioning. This relates to how Aum Shinrikyo was able to obtain Sarin and commit several brutal attacks - while financing projects - under the noses of authorities.

Asahara, 63, a partially blind former yoga instructor, believed that the United States would attack Japan with nuclear weapons, and that only cult members would survive World War III. Security forces were criticized for allowing the gas attacks to happen.

The executions were carried out by hanging, beginning with the leader himself, whose real name was Chizuo Matsumoto.

His founded the Aum Shinrikyo cult in 1984 and propagated a mix of Buddhism and Hinduism with the Christian Bible's Book of Revelations for an ideology that was obsessed with the end of the world. Executions are carried out suddenly with little warning to the condemned or their families when the day arrives, following a conviction and appeals process that can stretch out for years, as it did with Asahara. The followers of the three groups total about 1,650 in Japan and about 460 in Russian Federation, while the groups hold more than 1 billion yen ($9 million) in assets, according to the agency.

Despite the horror that persists over the Aum's subway attack and other crimes, some experts had warned against the execution of Asahara and his acolytes.

In 1996, Asahara admitted to the responsibility of the attack, however, he said "God instructed him" to take blame and he was not to be held personally responsible for it.

Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga confirmed that Asahara was executed Friday.

Shizue Takahashi, whose husband was a subway deputy station master who died in the attack, also expressed regret that six of Asahara's followers had been killed.

"I regret that is no longer possible", she said.

As the cult grew, the families of members began to raise the alarm, and complaints of brainwashing and abuse within Aum Shinrikyo became more common.

He was among 13 people placed on death row in connection with the series of crimes perpetrated by the doomsday cult. In that attack, the group sprayed the gas from a modified vehicle.

The ministry said that as of Friday, the number of death-row inmates with their sentences finalized was at 117, one of whom is under retrial.

Rights group Amnesty International said justice demanded accountability but also respect for civil rights.