Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

FALSE PROPHET: THE AUM CULT OF TERROR

Guinea Pigs

Daisaku Ikeda, was the leader of Soka Gakkai, one of Japans most popular "new religions." Asahara considered him a rival and took every opportunity to criticize him in public. He selected Ikeda as his target and directed his men to rig a spraying device on a suitable vehicle. They selected an evening when Ikeda would be speaking at a public rally. The vehicle was parked next to the building while the meeting was in progress and the sprayers activated. The device failed to work so the attack was aborted. Another meeting venue was selected and they tried again. All was going well until the device sprung a leak, splashing liquid sarin onto Tomomitsu Niimi, Asaharas security chief. Fortunately for Niimi, Hayakawa was present and quickly administered an antidote in time to prevent Niimis nervous system from shutting down.

The first human test had failed in its objective, but ironically the sarin had proved its effectiveness nonetheless. A new target had to be found. Several months prior to the testing, Aum had attempted to purchase a food processing plant in the town of Matsumoto, 100 miles north west of Tokyo. The owner, learning that the purchase was to be an Aum outpost, quickly filed a lawsuit to invalidate the sale.

Aums legal team contested the suit and a drawn-out court case ensued, accompanied by the usual public smear campaign that Aum mounted, against the owner and the residents of Matsumoto. The trial ended and the three judges presiding over the case retired to consider their verdict. His lawyers advised Asahara that there was a good chance that Aum would lose the case.

Asahara was livid and again called an emergency meeting with his "war" staff. He ordered that the judges were to be killed with sarin. The team quickly sprang into action. Hideo Murai ordered his men to construct a suitable vehicle. A large truck was fitted with a sophisticated battery-powered atomizer and loaded with 44 pounds of sarin. Another team was sent out to scout the area around the court building where the judges worked and a second vehicle was hired to act as a lookout.

On the morning of June 27th, 1994, the two vehicles left the compound late. Hideo Murai had delayed the planned departure time by oversleeping. Once on the road, it was discovered that because of the excess weight of the truck, the convoy was only capable of traveling at half the planned speed. Together with the late start and the restricted speed, the trucks arrived in Matsumoto to discover that the judges had finished work and gone home.

Murai was determined that the attack would proceed regardless of the setbacks and directed the vehicles to a dormitory where the judges lived. The area was scouted and a site selected. The fact that the dormitory was located in a heavily populated residential area did not seem to deter Murai and his death squad.

At 10:40 p.m., the members of the team were given sarin antidote and donned homemade gas masks. Shortly after, the atomizer was activated and the trucks drove slowly through the target area, however, the mixing device malfunctioned soon after and a deadly cloud of hydrogen chloride was released. The cloud of vapor was so dense that the occupants of the vehicles could not see where they were going.

While the attackers were attempting to extricate themselves from their problems, the wind changed direction, blowing the gas away from its intended target and across the adjoining houses. Shortly after, dogs were dying a convulsive death and their owners were struck down with blinding headaches and violent stomach spasms.

Seven innocent people died that night with 150 more admitted to hospital for treatment. The judges, even though they were exposed to some of the gas, survived with only mild symptoms. The wind shift had saved them from certain death. Even though the attack was technically a failure, Asahara was pleased with the result.

The incident sparked a broad police inquiry but, incredibly, Aum was not implicated, even after an anonymous tip implicating the sect was given to police after the gassing. Instead, police arrested one of the survivors, Yoshiyuko Kono, after they found chemicals in a storage shed on his property. The message sent to police was very explicit. One section read, "Matsumoto was definitely an experiment of sorts. The result of this experiment in an open space: seven dead, over 200 injured. If sarin is released in an enclosed space say, a crowded subway it is easy to imagine a massive catastrophe."

Obviously, someone within the sect and close to Asahara had sent the message to warn the police that an even greater disaster that was coming.

Aerial view of Matsumoto sarin gas attack
Aerial view of Matsumoto sarin gas attack

 

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