Japan's doomsday cult leader behind gas attack is executed

Shoko Asahara guru of the doomsday Aum Shinrikyo cult October 1 1990

On March 20, 1995, members of the cult left punctured bags filled with liquid nerve agent on train lines going through Tokyo's political district.

Japan has carried out its largest peacetime execution in more than a century with the hanging of a cult leader and six followers who were behind a chemical weapons attack on the Tokyo underground.

On June 27, 1994, seven people were killed and more than 500 hospitalized after Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas from a truck by driving slowly around an apartment complex in Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture.

He was among 13 people placed on death row in connection with the series of crimes perpetrated by the doomsday cult.

In 2016, a lawyers' group called for the abolition of the death penalty by 2020, citing the possibility of wrongful convictions and global trends against capital punishment.

Born Chizuo Matsumoto in 1955, Asahara founded Aum Shinrikyo, or Supreme Truth, in the mid-1980s.

"I believe imposing a death penalty on those whose crimes are extremely grave and atrocious is inevitable", Yoko Kamikawa, the justice minister, said Friday. She signed the execution order on Tuesday.

Some people argue that Aum Shinrikyo and spinoff cults remain risky, so its imprisoned members should be kept alive and grilled for information.

That attack, which involved a refrigerator truck releasing the gas to be dispersed by the wind through a neighbourhood, failed to kill the judges but killed eight other people and injured hundreds. Most of its followers are in Japan or Russian Federation.

Asahara and five of the six executed were implicated in the subway attack.

Kiyoe Iwata told Japanese broadcaster NHK by phone Friday that his death gives her piece of mind.

A riot police officer stands guard outside the Aum Shinrikyo cult headquarters 6th compound as the raids continued on 11 May 1995, searching for the mastermind behind the attacks.

"I just thought, oh, the day has finally come", said Shizue Takahashi, whose husband, a subway deputy station master, was killed in the subway attack. He called it appropriate.

Asahara's execution comes after 20 years of trials, with the Japanese government dismissing the final appeal earlier this year.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the authorities were monitoring the activities of the cult's successor organisation, Aleph, after the executions.

Asahara and some of his followers ran unsuccessfully for office in 1990 and became increasingly violent after the defeat, Hong Kong-based newspaper the South China Morning Post reports.

Sarin was originally developed by the Nazis. The subway attack killed 13 people and sickened more than 6,000. They also attempted to manufacture 1,000 automatic rifles but only managed to make one. The exact number is unclear.

The Justice Ministry says it could not confirm the reports. Six others still await their executions.

Shoko Asahara, the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan, was executed by hanging on Friday.

He pleaded not guilty and never testified, but muttered and made incoherent remarks in court during the eight years of his trial. Other members from bottom left to right, Yoshihiro Inoue, Tomomitsu Nimi, and Kiyohide Hayakawa. Below he is seen in a TV image from 2003.

What is the Aum Shinrikyo cult?

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