Home / China / World

20 years after subway attacks, Japan still baffled

By Agence France-Presse in Tokyo | China Daily | Updated: 2015-03-20 07:49

As Japan prepared to mark the 20th anniversary of a fatal nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subway, experts say the case still leaves more questions than answers about what motivated the killings.

Thirteen people died and 6,000 became ill after the apocalyptic Aum Supreme Truth cult released Nazi-developed sarin in five subway trains during coordinated rush-hour attacks on March 20, 1995.

Despite many trials over the last two decades that have put 13 people, including cult leader Shoko Asahara, on death row, the reasons behind the shocking episode remain unclear.

Particularly baffling is the fact that those responsible for the cult's worst crimes were some of Japan's best and brightest - scientists and doctors who had graduated from the country's top universities.

The high-profile trials could have been "an opportunity for Japan to share insights with the world as it fights terrorism, by fully understanding what happened with Aum, not just dealing with the crimes and charges at hand", said Kimiaki Nishida, a social psychology professor at Rissho University.

At a time when the world is grappling with a rise in extremism, in particular the Islamic State group - which executed two Japanese hostages this year - understanding exactly what happened and why is more important than ever, he said.

"I see that similar types of young people are getting sucked in (to IS) today," Nishida added. "They are looking for a place where they are highly valued, feel that they are needed, and are praised for being useful to others."

Japan had watched with fascination as Aum expanded in the 1980s and 1990s. The half-blind mystic Asahara, now 60, was a guest on television shows, where he was treated with a mixture of awe and curiosity.

He attracted more than 10,000 followers at its height. Believers were told that Asahara was a savior who could wash the world of its sins as it rolled toward its unavoidable end.

Asahara became obsessed with the idea his enemies would attack him, and he secretly ordered followers to produce sarin at what was later discovered to be a sophisticated chemical weapons laboratory.

In what some believe was an attempt to divert the authorities that Asahara thought were closing in on his base in the foothills of Mount Fuji, he sent five teams of two people to attack the Tokyo subway, which is used by millions of daily commuters.

Aum was never officially disbanded. It went bankrupt because of the massive damage payments it was forced to make to victims of its crimes.

Former members have continued under different groupings with new names, now collectively numbering roughly 1,650 people.



Editor's picks
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349