Aum Supreme Truth (Aum)
a.k.a. Aum Shinrikyo
renamed Aleph (2000)
Aum is a cult established in 1987 by Shoko Asahara, its charismatic and partially blind spiritual leader. The cult's belief system was rooted in esoteric mysticism and preaches a philosophy of apocalyptic nihilism. Followers were encouraged to resist the current political establishment. The Hindu god Shiva was the most prominent figure in the Aum Shinrikyo religious pantheon.
Millennial visions and apocalyptic scenarios dominate the group's doctrine, evidenced by the prominent role of Nostradamus as a prophet in Aum Shinrikyo teaching. Ashahara has, on many occasions, claimed to be the reincarnated Jesus Christ, as well as the first "enlightened one" since the Buddha. He has frequently preached about a coming Armageddon, which he describes as a global conflict that would, among other things, destroy Japan with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. According to Ashahara, only the followers of Aum Shinrikyo will survive this conflagration.
Aum rested on an organizational structure mimicking that of a nation-state, with "ministries" and a "pope secretariat." The cult, infused with elements of Buddhism, Christianity, Shamanism, Hinduism and New Age faiths, has forecasted the impending apocalypse. Beginning as a small group of fifteen, Aum's ranks expanded as it attracted young professionals and Japan's top university minds thanks to Shoko Asahara's frequent lecture tours. Aum recruited more than 300 scientists who specialized in biochemistry, biology, medicine, and genetic engineering.
Japanese police estimated that Aum's assets topped $1 million. These assets were accumulated from membership fees, donations, educational courses, Aum-run businesses and proceeds from literature sales. Initially, Asahara limited his teachings to non-violent meditation and introspection. In 1990, Aum members participated in the Japanese parliamentary elections. After intense campaigning, no Aum members obtained seats. A furious Asahara accused the government of election fraud, and began justifying murder on spiritual grounds.
Approved as a religious entity in 1989 under Japanese law, the group was active in local Japanese elections in 1990. Disbanded as a religious organization under Japanese law in October 1995, but in 1997 a government panel decided not to invoke the Anti-Subversive Law against the cult, which would have outlawed the sect.
The first cult laboratory for toxin production was actually in place by 1990 and was subsequently replaced with two new laboratories, one at Kamakuishki and the other in Tokyo. Aum dabbled in many different biological agents. They cultured and experimented with botulin toxin, anthrax, cholera, and Q fever. In 1993, Ashahara led a group of 16 cult doctors and nurses to Zaire, on a supposed medical mission. The actual purpose of the trip to Central Africa was to learn as much as possible about and, ideally, to bring back samples of Ebola virus. In early 1994, cult doctors were quoted on Russian radio as discussing the possibility of using Ebola as a biological weapon. The cult attempted several apparently unsuccessful acts of biological terrorism in Japan between 1990 and 1995. As early as April 1990, the cult had tried to release botulin toxin from a vehicle driving around the Diet and other government buildings in central Tokyo. In early June of 1993, another attempt was made to release botulin toxin, this time in conjunction with the wedding of the crown prince. A vehicle equipped with a spray device was driven around the imperial palace as well as the main government buildings in central Tokyo.
On 27 June 1994, Aum carried out a sarin attack at the Kita Fukashidistrict in the city of Matsumoto in central Japan. The group used a refrigerator truck to release the nerve agent, which, assisted by a 3-5 knot wind, dispersed over the residential neighborhood. Seven were killed and hundreds hospitalized. The targets were three judges involved in a real estate lawsuit against Aum Shinrikyo. None of the three died in the attack.
On 20 March 1995, Aum members carried six packages onto five Tokyo subway trains during the Monday rush hour. The packages, hidden in newspaper, were left on the floor and punctured with umbrella tips, releasing liquid sarin nerve agents that killed 12 persons and injured more than 5,000. Japanese police later uncovered that Aum had accrued enough chemicals to make sarin gas to kill millions. Production was carried out outside Tokyo at the Satyan 7 facility in its Kamikuishiki complex. The complex, located near Mt. Fuji, had the capacity to manufacture thousands of kilograms of sarin gas a year.
Other unsuccessful attempts perpetrated by the group include the June 1993 dropping of anthrax spores from its Tokyo office building and laboratory, and attempts to release Botulin toxins in subway stations prior to the 1995 sarin attack.
Matsumoto was found two months later in May 1995 in a hidden room inside a cult facility, and Japanese police arrested him. In trial, he pled not guilty to all charges and claimed that Aum's followers acted independently of his direction. Despite these pleas, he was sentenced to death. His appeal in September 2006 was turned down. Other Aum leaders were sentenced to death and to life in prison. Japanese courts have rejected most appeals from Aum leaders. Several key Aum figures remained at large. The group may have perpetrated other crimes before the March 1995 attack and may have planned future attacks.
The cult manufactured illegal drugs and had a marketing agreement with the Japanese Mafia (the Yakuza). In 1996, the Yakuza would be found responsible for the assassination of the cult's lead scientist, Dr. Hideo Murai, in the days following the Tokyo subway attack. Concerned at his frequent televised appearances, the Yakuza silenced him for fear that he would betray the linkage between the two shadowy groups. Extortion, theft, and murder were also part of the cult's fund-raising activities.
Matsumoto insisted he did not instruct his followers to carry out the attacks. But during his 2004 sentencing the Tokyo District Court said he deserved ultimate condemnation as the mastermind. His death sentence was finalized in 2006. Criminal trials of Aum Shinrikyo members dragged through Japanese courts for more than 20 years. Almost 200 people were indicted. 13 were sentenced to death.
A court-appointed psychiatrist who met Matsumoto in 2006 reported he maintained relative silence and needed support for bathing and other activities. Sources said that for the past several years, Matsumoto refused to meet his family members or lawyers.
Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was executed at the Tokyo detention house on 06 July 2018. He was 63. They said the 6 others executed on the same day are Yoshihiro Inoue, aged 48; Kiyohide Hayakawa, 68; Tomomasa Nakagawa, 55; Seiichi Endo, 58; Masami Tsuchiya, 53; and Tomomitsu Niimi, 54. Observers knew that Matsumoto and the others would be executed after the trial of former member Katsuya Takahashi. He was the last of the 192 former cult members to face criminal charges.
Japan's Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa told reporters that she signed the orders on Tuesday. She called the attack unprecedented, extremely heinous and highly organized, and said such crimes should never happen again. Kamikawa said the attack was an indiscriminate terrorist act that involved a chemical weapon and terrified people not only in Japan but also abroad. She added that the sorrow and pain of the victims of the cult's crimes and their families is beyond imagination. Kamikawa said that although extreme caution should be exercised when carrying out a death sentence, it should be implemented strictly and fairly if the penalty has been finalized. Kamikawa said courts hand down death sentences for extremely heinous crimes after full deliberation. She added that she signed the orders with respect for a court decision, and that it was her job to deal with the matter in a careful, strict and fair manner. The European Union and its member states criticized Japan for the executions of the former leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult and 6 of his former disciples. The Delegation of the European Union to Japan and ambassadors of European nations issued a joint statement on 06 July 2018. The statement said that the diplomats recognized this was a particularly painful and unique case for Japan and its citizens. It also says that they convey their heartfelt sympathy, share the suffering of the victims and their families, and absolutely condemn terrorist attacks, whoever the perpetrators and for whatever reason.
However, the document said the death penalty is cruel and inhuman, and fails to act as a deterrent to crime. It says that errors are inevitable in any legal system and are irreversible, calling on the Japanese government to adopt a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing them.
At the time of the Tokyo subway attack, the group claimed to have 9,000 members in Japan and up to 40,000 worldwide. Cult membership around the world was likely 20,000 to 40,000. One cult leader estimated the cult's net worth in March of 1995 at about $1.5 billion. The money was collected through donations, tithing, sales of religious paraphernalia, videotape and book sales, and other sources. The cult conducted seminars and hosted training courses for members, offering indoctrination in Aum's teachings, charging believers from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars for attending these sessions. Aum Shinrikyo also had a number of commercial enterprises, even a company that manufactured computers. Imported components from Taiwan were assembled in a cult factory at Kamakuishki and sold in Aum's computer store in downtown Tokyo. The cult also ran a chain of restaurants in Tokyo and several other Japanese cities.
Another source of income was the practice of green mail. Aum would threaten to establish a cult compound in a city and, if the city fathers did not bribe them to go away, the cult would set up shop. Several cities paid rather than have Aum establish operations there.
Its current strength is unknown. The Public Security Intelligence Agency said in 2018 that Aleph, a successor group to the Aum Shinrikyo cult, and its splinter groups have 34 facilities across Japan and a total of about 1,650 followers. The groups are monitored constantly and inspections of their facilities are conducted regularly.
Location/Area of Operation
Operates mainly in Japan, but previously had a presence in Australia, Russia, Ukraine, Germany, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, the former Yugoslavia, and the United States. The cult's operations were worldwide, promoting a theology drawn from different sources, including Buddhism, Christianity, Shamanism, Hinduism, and New Age beliefs.
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