IntroductionThe Aum Shinrikyo is a Japanese 'New Religious Movement Organisation' but they are also labelled as a terrorist organisation in many countries across the world. The group originated in 1984, in Japan. It started as a cult where the founder and leader, Shoko Asahara, promised followers that they would have the power to hover or levitate if they joined. Since its establishment in 1984, it has committed at least two terrorist attacks. The group was popular in the 1990's and had many members (10,000 in Japan and approximately 30,000 in Russia) but following the Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, the numbers diminished due to the group being targeted by the police. They changed the name of the organisation from Aum Shinrikyo to Aleph.
HistoryThe infamous Cult began in 1987 and was founded by Shoko Asahara. Aum Shinrikyo has elements of Buddhism and Christianity although Christians and Buddhists have no association to the group.
The founder, Shoko Asahara, was born in 1957 and is partially blind. He spent his life studying acupuncture which is a common career in Japan for the blind. He was arrested by the Japanese authorities and held in prison for a short period for selling useless medicines to cure diseases, with the claim that they give the user special powers. He later travelled in the Himalayas where he supposedly learnt his divine powers and was teleported to the year 2006 where he spoke to soldiers who had survived World War III. Asahara formed the Cult in 1987 in a small yoga studio and convinced people that if they joined they would have special powers such as the ability to levitate and they would fight in World War III, which was to occur at the end of the millennium. Asahara grew a beard when he started the Cult as a way of appearing as a mystic. The reason the Cult was able to recruit so many members was that the vulnerable sought the belief that they could posse supernatural powers and could achieve a different life to the busy, non-stop working life of most people in Japan.
The Cult members were loyal to Asahara and treated him as a type of 'Christ'. He brainwashed his followers and taught a range of extreme theories such as the doomsday and apocalypse that was his World War III. He brainwashed people into thinking that if they left they would die in the apocalypse and there were cases of members leaving and being killed by other members, acting on Asaharas orders.
In 2000, the name of the organisation was changed from Aum Shinrikyo to Aleph. Aleph is the first letter of the Jewish alphabet. It is somewhat of an enigma that they changed the name to Aleph as the group is strongly opposed to Judaism. The reason for the change of name served to prove to the public they had changed and were no longer Anti-Semitic and to recruit new members that were unaware of the Cult's previous history. The Cult still exists today, although many countries such as Australia and the USA have placed Aleph and Aum Shinrikyo on terrorist alert lists. Interestingly, Japan has not classed Aleph as a terrorist organisation, yet and current worldwide membership as of 2005 is 1,650 according to Japanese government records.
Chemical WeaponsThe Aum Shinrikyo made sarin using over the counter products purchased at a chemist and processed themselves. The Aum Shinrikyo maintained large warehouses where they would develop nerve agents and other chemical weapons. The Cult even had a headquarters in Western Australia that was closed at the end of 1993. In Western Australian it is asserted they tested chemical weapons (Sarin gas and VX which is the most toxic nerve agent created and is classed as a Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) by the United States) on 29 sheep. The Cult also maintained chemical warehouses throughout Japan but in many cases, local residents petitioned for them to move away.
Tokyo Subway Sarin Gas AttacksIn 1995 the Aum Shinrikyo committed the first, and worst, of their terrorist attacks. In the early morning rush hour on the Tokyo subway, five Aum Shinrikyo members each released two bags of the lethal chemical, Sarin and the attack was carried out at peak hour in the subway stations where there was the largest number of people and greatest potential impact. The perpetrators were driven to the designated subway stations carrying 2 bags of liquid Sarin wrapped in newspaper. Some wore disguises while others had medical masks (which are quite common in Japan). All boarded the subway carriages and placed the bags on the floor, puncturing them with umbrellas before hopping off at the next stop. The liquid evaporated and commuters began to feel light headed and nauseas. The subway carriages were forced to stop and were then evacuated. At one station a commuter told a staff member of a leaking bag which the staff member immediately picked up with her hands and then placed in a bin - the staff member died shortly after. Chaos followed outside the subway stations as Tokyo's road systems were already congested with traffic and emergency services found it difficult to reach victims. In total, 12 people died, 50 were severely injured and possibly 1000 more had temporary blindness and vision loss. The attack remains to this day the worst terrorist attack committed in Japan.
Aum's Other Illegal ActivitiesAlthough the 1995 Tokyo Subway Sarin Gas attacks received the most publicity, it is certainly not the only terrorist and illegal act. The second most notorious and infamous reason for the Cult's media coverage were the Sakamoto murders. Sakamoto was an anti-cult lawyer who was working against the Aum Shinrikyo in 1989. Sakamoto convinced Asahara to take a blood test to see if there was anything unusual in his body that would give him his supernatural powers. The test came back normal suggesting suggest that Asahara was a fraud and had no supernatural powers. This would have been devastating for recruitment into the Aum Shinrikyo and embarrassing to Asahara. This was the reason Asahara sent his loyal followers to kill Sakamoto and his family. The method they chose to kill Sakamoto and his family was with 14 hypodermic syringes filled with potassium chloride and their bodies were mutilated to hinder identification. The perpetrators were only arrested and prosecuted because other members of the Cult were linked to the sarin gas attacks gave evidence.
There has also been evidence and accusations that the Aum Shinrikyo had torture chambers at some of the warehouses and headquarters. It is asserted that they placed members who tried to leave the Cult in large shipping containers where they deprived them of sleep along with committing other tortures before then killing them.