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20 March

Tokyo Sarin Gas Subway Attack (On This Day in History)


In Tokyo, 12 people were killed, 50 were severly injurered and more than 5,500 others sickened and afflicted with temporary vision problems when packages containing the poisonous gas sarin (learn more: leaked on five separate subway trains. This was a terrible event in our worlds history, but I believe it is important.  The Japanese media calmly referred to the event as the Subway Sarin Incident. The “incident” was an act of domestic terrorism perpetrated by members of Aum. The attack was directed against trains passing through Kasumigaseki and Nagatach?, home to the Japanese government. This was the most serious attack to occur in Japan since the end of World War II.

More after the jump…

Why:  The prosecution said that it was an attempt to bring down the government and install Shoko Asahara, the group’s founder, as the “emperor” of Japan. The most recent theory says that the attack was diversion from Aum when the group obtained some information indicating that police searches were planned. Although, it ended up leading to mass searches and arrests. Asahara’s defense team claimed that certain senior members of the group independently planned the attack, but their motives for this are left unexplained.

Aum Shinrikyo first began their attacks on June 27, 1994. With the help of a refrigerator truck, members of the cult released airborn sarin which, floated near the homes of judges who were overseeing a lawsuit concerning a real-estate dispute which was predicted to go against the cult. 500 people were injured and 7 people died.

Ten men were responsible for the attacks; five released the sarin, while the other five served as get-away drivers. On Monday March, 20 1995, five members of Aum Shinrikyo launched a chemical attack on the Tokyo Metro, one of the world’s busiest commuter transport systems, at the peak of the morning rush hour. The chemical agent used, liquid sarin, was contained in plastic bags which each team then wrapped in newspaper. Each perpetrator carried two packets of sarin totaling approximately 900 millilitres of sarin, except Yasuo Hayashi, who carried three bags. Aum originally planned to spread the sarin as an aerosol but did not follow through with it. A single drop of sarin the size of a pinhead can kill an adult.

Carrying their packets of sarin and umbrellas with sharpened tips, the perpetrators boarded their appointed trains. At prearranged stations, the sarin packets were dropped and punctured several times with the sharpened tip of the umbrellas. The men then got off the train and exited the station to meet his accomplice with a car. By leaving the punctured packets on the floor, the sarin was allowed to leak out into the train car and stations. Sarin’s low vapor pressure and high boiling point makes it difficult to vaporize at ambient temperature, so very little evaporated to become an inhalant hazard. Sarin evaporates nearly 10 times slower than water.

On the day of the attack ambulances transported 688 patients, and nearly five thousand people reached hospitals by other means. Hospitals saw 5,510 patients, seventeen of whom were deemed critical, thirty-seven severe, and 984 moderately ill with vision problems. Most of those reporting to hospitals were the “worried well,” who had to be distinguished from those that were ill. The death toll on the day of the attack was eight, and it eventually rose to at least a dozen.

Shortly after the attack, Aum lost its status as a religious organization, and many of its assets were seized. However, the Diet (Japanese parliament) rejected a request from government officials to outlaw the group. The Public Security Committee, an organization similar to America’s Central Intelligence Agency, received increased funding to monitor the group. In 1999, the Diet gave the Committee broad powers to monitor and curtail the activities of groups that have been involved in “indiscriminate mass murder” and whose leaders are “holding strong sway over their members”, a bill custom-tailored to Aum Shinrikyo.

About twenty of Aum’s members, including its founder Asahara, are either standing trial or have already been convicted for crimes related to the attack. As of July 2004, eight Aum members have received death sentences for their roles in the attack.

The group reportedly still has about 2,100 members, and continues to recruit new members under the new name “Aleph”. Though the group has renounced its violent past, it still continues to follow Asahara’s spiritual teachings. Members operate several businesses, though boycotts of known Aleph-related businesses, in addition to searches, confiscations of possible evidence and picketing by protest groups, have resulted in closures.

Aum/Aleph remains on the US State Department’s list of terrorist groups, but has not been linked to any further terrorist acts, or any terrorist acts in the US. Aleph has announced a change of its policies, apologized to victims of the subway attack, and established a special compensation fund. Aum members convicted in relation to the attack or other crimes are not permitted to join the new organization, and are referred to as “ex-members” by the group.


Image Credit:  13bobby 

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