TOKYO — The executions Friday of a doomsday cult leader and six of his followers closed a chapter on one of Japan’s most shocking crimes, the poison gas attack on rush-hour commuters in Tokyo’s subway that killed 13 people and sickened more than 6,000.
The attack in 1995 woke up a relatively safe country to the risk of urban terrorism. The ensuing raid on the cult’s compound near Mount Fuji riveted Japan, as 2,000 police officers approached with a canary in a bird cage. Shoko Asahara, the bearded, self-proclaimed guru who had recruited scientists and others to his cult, was found two months later, hiding in a compartment in a building ceiling.
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The executions of the 63-year-old Asahara and the six cult members were announced by the Justice Ministry after they had been hanged, as is the practice in Japan. Two major newspapers issued extra editions and handed them out at train stations.
“This gave me peace of mind,” Kiyoe Iwata, who lost her daughter in the subway attack, told broadcaster NHK. “I have always been wondering why it had to be my daughter and why she had to be killed. Now, I can pay a visit to her grave and tell her of this.”
The executions were a long time coming, but they were expected as the last trial in the case had been completed and some of the condemned convicts had been transferred to other prisons earlier this year. Six other cult members remain on death row.
The subway attack was the most notorious of the cult’s crimes, which was blamed for 27 deaths in all. Named Aum Shinrikyo, or Supreme Truth, it amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons to carry out Asahara’s escalating criminal orders in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with the government.