Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

FALSE PROPHET: THE AUM CULT OF TERROR

Strike Force

The subway attack had succeeded in spreading terror throughout Japan. Tokyo, once one of the world's safest cities, had become a city under siege. As the residents struggled to come to grips with the shock, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police made final preparations for one of the biggest raids in the nations criminal history.

Even though the operation was supposed to be a secret, the word quickly spread throughout the Aum community. Messages were posted on the Internet, possibly by Aum spies within the police department, stating the time and locations of each of the raids.

The Mount Fuji complex became a hive of frenetic activity as cultists rushed to destroy or hide the evidence of their deadly deeds. Chemicals were buried or burned, equipment was moved to other locations and records were destroyed. Hundreds of followers, including those closest to Asahara, left the compound en route to secret hideouts.

Earlier the same day, Asaharas Rolls Royce was seen leaving the headquarters at high speed, heading towards Tokyo. The car was eventually located in the parking garage of a luxury hotel. Police staked out the location, but later lost the vehicle when it sped away and evaded them in traffic. Asahara had eluded the police and would continue to do so for over two months.

Police carry out bags of chemicals during March 1995 Kamikuishiki raid
Police carry out bags of chemicals during March 1995 Kamikuishiki raid
Shortly after dawn on the Wednesday, March 22, over 1,000 police stormed the Mount Fuji headquarters of Aum Supreme Truth. Many officers were dressed in special chemical warfare suits. They carried the tools necessary to gain forced entry -- crowbars, blowtorches and saws. The Aum members that were left in the compound voiced their objections as the police entered, but did not resist.

Over the next week, the members of the raiding party uncovered literally tons of dangerous chemicals and the apparatus for fashioning them into deadly weapons. Over 200 different kinds of chemicals were unearthed. Some of the ingredients would have made sufficient sarin to kill in excess of four million people. As well as chemicals, the searchers found a hospital stocked with exotic drugs, a safe containing millions of dollars in cash and gold and numerous torture chambers and cells, many of which still contained prisoners. Regardless of the raid and the ensuing search, police failed to make a single arrest in connection with the subway attack.

Aums legal team responded to the raids with public denials followed by lawsuits against the city for damages. They told the press that the chemicals and equipment were for the manufacture of fertilizers and food products. Via a video message, Asahara professed his innocence, insisting that, "the Tokyo subway attack was an attempt by the U.S. military to implicate the cult."

The leaders of the cult became the nation's most wanted criminals. Still in hiding, several of the inner circle continued to plan further attacks. Takaji Kunimatsu, chief of the national police agency, was shot four times with a heavy-caliber revolver, as he entered his office. Fortunately, he survived. Two hours after the hit, an anonymous message was sent to a Japanese television network. The caller warned that if the investigation into Aum did not cease, many police would be killed.

Because of Aums presence in the United States, the FBI began an official investigation into the sect's activities. They quickly became frustrated when the Japanese authorities refused to share information with them. The matter was eventually settled only after the American government issued a formal diplomatic protest to its Japanese counterparts.

By early April, the police investigation began to show results. Dr. Ikuo Hayashi was the first of the inner circle to be arrested. Even though over 100 cult members were already in custody, most had been charged with only minor offences. The cults hit man, Tomomitsu Niimi, was the next to be arrested. Both he and Hayashi were charged with confining followers against their will. More arrests followed, including Kiyohide Hayakawa. All the prisoners were held in confinement without access to legal representation. The police hoped that this treatment would soon lead to confessions.

Meanwhile, Asahara was still on the run, but that didnt prevent him from issuing a booklet that, among other things, predicted a disaster that "would make the Kobe earthquake seem as minor as a fly landing on ones cheek." The predicted date was April 15, 1995. The authorities took the matter seriously, declared a state of emergency and increased the raids, hoping to catch cult members red-handed with Sarin or similar substances. All they found in over 120 individual raids was a note of warning. It read, "If police ever enter the place where Master Asahara is hiding, we will throw sarin on them and die together."

As the April 15 deadline approached, rumors of impending doom were rife. Threats of poisoned water, gas attacks and mayhem circulated throughout Tokyo, causing shops and industries to close as many areas of the city began to prepare for the worst. Army chemical warfare specialists were placed on standby and many hospitals were supplied with antidotes to combat the effects of nerve gas.

Finally, the appointed day arrived. The city waited in quiet terror as thousands of police patrolled the streets in anticipation of the next act of terrorism, but none came. Four days later, when the city was returning to its normal routine, a gas attack was reported at Yokohama station. After the gas cleared, 600 people had been treated at hospital for sore eyes and throats. Aum was again implicated but was subsequently cleared when a one-time gangster confessed to the crime.

The police investigation dragged on. Although they had proven that Aum had manufactured nerve gas agents, including sarin, they made no move to arrest or charge any member of the sect with the Tokyo subway gassings. Meanwhile, the media had succeeded in making heroes of some of the sect members. One in particular, Fumihiro Joyu, had achieved almost movie-star status amongst young Japanese women.

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