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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Japan's Dark Hole: 10 Year Anniversary of Doomsday Cult Sarin Gas Attack

Sunday will mark the ten year anniversary (Mar. 20, 1995) of the Aum (pronounced "ohm") cult's sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

David Kaplan and Andrew Marshall did an investigation of the Aum religious cult and wrote a book entitled The Cult at the End of the World: The Terrifying Story of the Aum Doomsday Cult, from the Subways of Tokyo to the Nuclear Arsenals of Russia.

The Aum had learned how to make sarin nerve agent. This is a very lethal nerve gas invented by German scientists in the 1930's. According to the Kaplan and Marshall book the Aum had come up with a song to celebrate the discovery. One verse went:

It came from Nazi Germany, a dangerous little chemical weapon, Sarin
Sarin. If you inhale the mysterious vapor, you will fall with bloody vomit from your mouth, Sarin! Sarin! Sarin! - the chemical weapon.

Excerpts from FT.com story about attack:
The Tokyo subway was the perfect terrorist target. Efficient, clean, safe, its tunnels were, and still are, the veins and nervous system of the world’s biggest metropolis.

One of the Aum members who carried out the Sarin Attack was Yasuo Hayashi. He was a high-ranking member of Aum. The cult had 10,000 Japanese members who had been busily preparing for Armageddon. Shortly before 8am, Monday, March 20, 1995, he had boarded a Hibiya line train. At roughly the same time, four fellow “monks” - all armed with cheap umbrellas and carrying plastic bags filled with colorless sarin liquid - were boarding separate trains rattling towards Kasumigaseki train station.

The man who would later be dubbed Killer Hayashi by a frenzied Japanese press stood in the packed carriage and quietly let his plastic packets slip to the floor. He jabbed the tip of his umbrella - carefully sharpened the night before - into the polythene and elbowed his way on to the platform. In the carriage, the doors closed and the train moved on. Passengers started to splutter and groan as noxious fumes spread. At 8.02am, the train pulled into Kodemmacho. The doors opened and one of the choking commuters kicked the package on to the platform. There, unnoticed, it would poison dozens.

Similar scenes of horror were unfolding elsewhere. Hastily handwritten signs were posted outside the metro explaining that service had been suspended. Some bore a word so unfamiliar it was rendered in the katakana alphabet reserved for foreign concepts. That word was “terror”.

By the end of the day, more than 5,500 people had been struck down, some with agonising symptoms. One woman’s contact lenses fused to her pupils. Doctors surgically removed both her eyes. Twelve people, including station attendants, died. A number were left in vegetative states.

It is natural to dismiss Aum’s rise as freakish. After all, there are deranged lunatics in all societies. Yet a surprising number of Japanese intellectuals, Haruki Murakami (Japan’s best-known novelist) among them, have sought to link the cult’s emergence with a crisis in Japanese society. In Underground, Murakami’s book of interviews with victims and perpetrators of the gassing, he writes: “I can’t simply file away the gas attack, saying: ‘After all, this was merely an extreme and exceptional crime committed by an isolated lunatic fringe.’” Rather than seeing the event as “Evil Them” versus “Innocent Us”, he rakes over mainstream society for clues. “Wasn’t the real key,” he writes, “more likely to be found hidden under ‘our’ territory?”

Murakami also appears to identify with the motives of those who tried to escape their ranks. “The cult people got out of that system and they entered the right system, a system they thought was right at least. They were very pure and they decided to live for themselves, for something good, for something immortal. Of course, they committed a crime, and they should not have done that.”

Back in the 19990's Aum attempted to get Russian nuclear weapons and prospected for uranium in Australia's outback. In 2000, the organization changed its name to Aleph - the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. They are still very active today.

Doomsday and after [FT.com, Mar. 18, 2005]
Aum Shinrikyo Doomsday Cult & Terrorist Organization [TJN, Feb. 3, 2005]
Aleph [The organization's official website - English section]
Aum Shinrikyo (also spelled Om Shin Rikyo) [Wikipedia.org]

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