Attack in Tokyo
Aum Shinrikyo, which is also known as Aum and Aleph, is a Japanese cult that combines tenets from Buddhism, Hinduism, and is obsessed with the apocalypse. The group made headlines around the world in 1995 when members carried out a chemical attack on the Tokyo subway system. A nerve agent, sarin, was released onto train cars, killing twelve and causing an estimated six thousand people to seek medical attention.
At the center of the group’s belief is reverence for Shoko Asahara, Aum’s founder, who says that he is the first “enlightened one” since Buddha. Asahara preached that the end of the world was near and that Aum followers would be the only people to survive the apocalypse, which he predicted would occur in 1996 or between 1999 and 2003. Asahara has claimed that the United States would hasten the Armageddon by starting World War III with Japan. At the time of the 1995 subway attack, the group claimed to have an estimated forty thousand members worldwide, with offices in the United States, Russia, and Japan.
During the morning rush hour on one of the world’s busiest commuter systems, Aum members put a liquid form of sarin, tightly contained in packages made to look like lunch boxes or bottled drinks, onto five cars on three separate subway lines that converged at the Kasumigaseki station, where several government ministries are located. The perpetrators punctured the packages with umbrellas and left them in subway cars and stations, where they began to leak a thick liquid. Witnesses said that subway entrances resembled battlefields as injured commuters lay gasping on the ground with blood gushing from their noses or mouths. Twelve members of Aum, including Aum founder Shoko Asahara, were sentenced to death for the subway attack.
The 1995 attack was the most serious terrorist attack in Japan ‘s modern history, causing massive disruption and widespread fear in a society that is virtually free of crime.
Sarin, which comes in both liquid and gas forms, is a highly toxic and volatile nerve agent the Nazi scientists developed in the 1930s. Chemical weapons experts say that sarin gas is five hundred times more toxic than cyanide gas. Although sarin is very complex and dangerous to make, experts say that the gas can be produced by a trained chemist with publicly available chemicals.
As early as five years before the March 1995 subway attack, the group attempted to carry out at least nine biological assaults—all failed—according to a 1998 New York Times investigation. Originally, Aum planned to massacre citizens by spraying botulin, the most lethal natural poison to humans, from buildings and modified delivery vans. Aum’s team of young scientists cultured and experimented with biological toxins, including botulin, anthrax, cholera, and Q fever. According to the CDC, Aum sent a fact-finding team to Zaire to study and collect Ebola virus samples in 1993. The transition to chemical weapons came after biological attacks failed.
After the subway attack, the State Department says that Japanese authorities reinvestigated and found Aum responsible for a mysterious attack—that later proved to be sarin—on a residential neighborhood in 1994 that killed seven and injured over one hundred people.