Japan marks anniversary of subway gas attack

Japan on Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of a gas attack that killed 12 people on the Tokyo subway as the cult responsible apologised anew for the worst terror act in the country’s modern history.

People gathered at services at subway stations to pray for the dead, with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi saying the country should be prepared for any such future “terror”.

The Aum Supreme Truth released Nazi-invented sarin nerve gas on five trains on three subway lines during the morning rush hour of March 20 1995. Twelve people were killed and about 5 500 hurt.

Many of the injured still suffer from after-effects, such as impaired visions, headaches and stress disorders.

The cult allegedly carried out the attack in the belief that the world was on the verge of apocalyptic war and police were about to crack down on them.

There was no word from the cult’s jailed guru Shoko Asahara on the anniversary but the group, which changed its name to Aleph in 2000, reissued an apology for the massacre.

“We wish to continue compensating the victims,” it said in a message on Sunday. The sect has paid an average one million yen ($9 500) to each of the survivors or bereaved families.

“We hereby renew our vow not to repeat such an incident, as a testament for this day after 10 years,” it said.

Koizumi prayed before a makeshift altar at the Kasumigaseki subway station, where two subway employees died after helping evacuate victims of the attack.

“As a poison-gas terror attack causes tremendous damage, Japan is considering worldwide cooperation in coping with it,” Koizumi told reporters.
“We must be prepared for any of such attacks at any time and any place.”

The attack profoundly shocked Japan, shattering the myth that it was a crime-free country despite anti-establishment violence carried out by left-wing radicals after World War II.

In 1974, eight people were killed and 370 were injured when a home-made bomb left by a radical sect exploded at the Tokyo head office of Mitsubish Heavy Industries.

The subway incident stunned the world by showing that even an obscure group like Aum could easily produce deadly biochemical weapons.

Aum cult members still follow the teachings of the jailed Asahara, security intelligence officials have said.

Asahara’s teachings are a peculiar mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism, and objects of veneration include Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction.

Asahara, a bearded allegedly blind former acupuncturist, was sentenced to death in February last year for masterminding the sarin attack.

He faces an appeal trial but even the date for the first hearing has yet to be set with his defence counsel unable to communicate with him. His daughters have said their father must be ailing under detention and mumbles nonsense.

Five other senior cult member are also on trial in the conspiracy.

On Saturday, families of the victims of the attack accused the government of a lack of support.

They were joined at a rally by three Americans who survived the September 11 attacks on the United States or lost relatives in the strike by the al-Qaeda network and said they were promised compensation by the US government.

“We would have not suffered so much if we could receive assistance similar to the help in the US,” Shizue Takahashi, whose husband died in the Kasumigaseki gas attack, told the rally.

The number of Aum believers in Japan has been staying flat at about 1 650 for the past five years, down from the peak 11 400 before the gas attack but up from 1 000 after police raids, according to the public security agency.

The group also has 300 members in Russia.—Sapa-AFP

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