Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

FALSE PROPHET: THE AUM CULT OF TERROR

Bio-Terror Plans

While the cult was in expansion mode, research was continuing unabated in Aums bio-labs. Scientist Endo was convinced that he had finally perfected his strain of the botulism virus.

Asahara was growing impatient. He wanted to launch an attack against the countrys leadership and suggested that the pending marriage of Japans Prince Naruhito as the perfect opportunity. Originally, he had wanted to attack the imperial palace with a laser weapon, thus wiping out many of Japans leaders at the same time.

Murai  informed his master that even though such a weapon was possible, they would not be able to build and perfect it in time for the royal event. Asahara was disappointed, he wanted nothing less than an elaborate coup that would allow Aum to attack and take control of the imperial palace, the prime ministers residence and the parliament all at the one time.

Seiichi Endo
Seiichi Endo
However, after careful consideration and discussion, Asahara had to admit that the cult was not quite ready to launch such an audacious plan. Instead he directed his men to organize the spraying of botulinus toxin throughout central Tokyo. The plans were made and shortly after, another vehicle was equipped and set out to complete the task, with Asahara to direct the attack personally. As the citizens of Tokyo prepared for the wedding, Asahara and his team began to spread what they hoped would be an epidemic through the city streets. The plan failed, the wedding came and went with not one report of a single casualty from the attack.

Obviously, Endo reasoned, botulism wasnt the answer but he had another weapon in his arsenal that he was sure would be.

In late 1993, he unveiled his plan to unleash another dangerous substance over Tokyo. On the east side of the city, Aum owned an eight-story building that had been converted to house a new laboratory that produced Bacillus anthracis or, as it was more widely known, anthrax.

Bacillus anthracis vegetative cells
Bacillus anthracis vegetative cells

The British had developed anthrax as a potential biological weapon during World War II. It was tested on the sheep of Gruinard Island off the coast of Scotland. As a biological weapon, anthrax is designed to be inhaled.  A few days after the victim has inhaled a sufficient quantity of anthrax spores, symptoms would normally begin to show.  Initially the victim would show cold or flu-like symptoms, followed by high fever and vomiting. Eventually, the body would break out in huge, painful blisters, which would turn the skin black and hard. Finally the brain would expand and bleed and the body would turn blue from lack of oxygen as the victim lapsed into a coma and died a slow, painful death. Once the disease was established, it was almost always fatal, as the Russian bio-warfare experts learned in 1979 when an accident released anthrax into the city of Sverdlovsk. More than 60 people were killed.

Producing anthrax as a weapon is a non-trivial undertaking -- as Endo learned the hard way.  First the anthrax must be cultured, then made into a powder or liquid without killing the anthrax bacteria, and finally distributed in a powder or aerosol that will reach the nasal passages of the intended victims in the required dosage.

Part of the Aum laboratory where the biotoxins were created and stored
Part of the Aum laboratory where the biotoxins were created and stored

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