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14 April 2024

Doomsday cult member surrenders 16 years after attacks

By Reuters

A former member of a Japanese doomsday cult that staged deadly gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995 turned himself in to authorities after more than 16 years on the run, the Kyodo news agency reported on Sunday.

Makoto Hirata, 46, who has been on a police wanted list since May 1995, showed up at a police station in Tokyo only minutes before the New Year, Kyodo said.

He was one of three former Aum Shinri Kyo cult members still at large after a series of crimes by the group.

The cult's founder, Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, had his death sentence confirmed in 2006.

Simultaneous attacks with sarin nerve gas on five Tokyo subway trains during rush hour on March 20, 1995, killed 12 people and made thousands ill.

The attacks, with pictures of bodies lying across platforms and soldiers in gas masks sealing off subway stations, shattered the country's self-image as a haven of public safety.

Hirata was arrested immediately after he turned himself in on suspicion of involvement in the abduction of a notary office clerk in Tokyo in 1995, Kyodo said.

Police also suspect Hirata, who joined the cult in about 1987, may have been involved in the 1995 shooting of the chief of the National Police Agency, Kyodo said.

He told police he turned himself in because he wanted a sense of closure after being on the run for such a long time, it said.