Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods
Top Ten Deadliest Cults
Aum Shinrikyo
Aum Shinrikyo
The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) was founded out of the Tokyo apartment of Shoko Asahara (inset) in 1984 as a yoga meditation class. By 1989 it was granted official status as a religious organization by the Japanese government. By 1995 the group claimed to have over 40,000 members worldwide. The cult's beliefs combine Yoga, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and the writings of Nostradamus. Asahara believed himself to be Japan's fully enlightened "Christ," who could take away sin and would save his followers from the nuclear Armageddon he predicted.

In the 1980s the increasingly controversial cult was accused of forcing members to donate money, holding members captive and of committing at least one murder of one who tried to leave the cult, but retained some popular acceptance. In the 1990s Asahara adopted the view that the U.S. would attack Japan and begin the End Times. The cult's violent tendencies escalated, and they began to stockpile weapons and military hardware. By 1993 members were manufacturing sarin and VX gas.

In March 1995, Asahara received word that the police were planning on raiding his facility. In an effort to distract them, on March 20 he ordered the release of sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system (pictured) killing 13 people, seriously injuring 54 and affecting 980 (possibly more, because many Japanese victims of crime are reluctant to report it). The distraction backfired; police instead raided cult properties all over Japan, discovering explosives, chemical and biological weapons (including anthrax and Ebola cultures), a Russian military helicopter, enough sarin to kill four million people, LSD, methamphetamine, truth serum, millions of dollars in cash and gold, and, shockingly, victims held captive by the cult in cells on the cult's properties. Asahara initially issued statements saying the evidence was manufactured. Ultimately he was arrested, but his attorney insisted he had no knowledge of the sarin attacks due to his declining health. He was tried and sentenced to death by hanging on February 27, 2004. His appeals have been denied. Asahara disassociated himself from the cult, which still exists today as Aleph, in order to prevent its dissolution.

Read more False Prophet: The Aum Cult of Terror
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