|Global Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction:
A Case Study on the Aum Shinrikyo
Senate Government Affairs Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
October 31, 1995 Staff Statement
In the days following the subway gas attack on March 20, 1995, as suspicion fell on the Aum, most people outside of Japan learned for the first time of this rather obscure Japanese religious sect. To most, their criminal actions of March 20th were out of character for a religious group. Yet, a closer review of the Aum's history show that this group's character had a common thread of criminality leading back to almost the date it was legally chartered. They include murder, attempted murder, kidnappings and burglaries. These incidents, most of which only became known to the outside world in the aftermath of the Tokyo attack, have led many to conclude that Japanese authorities should not have been surprised by either the subway attack or its perpetrators.
This section of the Staff statement will briefly chronicle the most serious of the criminal acts of the Aum cult leading up to the tragedy in the Tokyo subway. Their recitation provides an accurate portrait of this group's criminality. It also serves as a reminder of the consequences of government inaction. A number of Japanese Aum experts interviewed by the Staff charged that their own government's inability or unwillingness over the years to investigate the Aum led to the cult's delusion of invincibility. They noted that the cult regularly snatched former members and enemies off the street without any police interference. This immunity just emboldened the Aum to more outrageous conduct in their opinions.
The following is a partial chronological list of criminal activities of the Aum cult leading up to the Tokyo gassing attack of March 20, 1995. A longer, more detailed chronology of major events in the history of the Aum cult is attached as Appendix D:
1989 Parents and family members of Aum recruits complain to law enforcement officers that the Aum was kidnapping and physically assaulting recruits and family members of recruits.
11/89 Mr. Sakamoto, a lawyer representing anti-Aum groups, and his wife and one-year old son are kidnapped and murdered. After the Tokyo attack, Aum members confess to the crime and the families' remains are found.
10/90 Aum members found guilty in Japanese court of violating the Utilization of Land Planning Act.
10/92 Aum 'medical missions sent to Zaire to obtain a sample of the deadly Ebola virus.
1993 Aum begins research into and production of chemical agents.
6/93 Noxious fumes from a building believed to be affiliated with the sect cause approximately 100 people to complain in the Koto ward of Tokyo. Following the sarin gas attack in Tokyo, Aum members told Japanese officials that the Aum dispersed anthrax bacilli at their Tokyo headquarters at this time.
9/93 Two Aum members plead guilty to carrying dangerous chemicals on an airplane in Perth, Australia.
6/94 Sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, 7 people died and over 200 injured. The sect purchases and smuggles an MIL-17 helicopter from Russia to Japan.
7/94 Cult begins manufacturing AK-74s. A hazardous odor smelled near the premises of Aum in Yamanashi prefecture.
9/94 Miyazaki Prefecture police accepted a complaint and charged the cult with plundering an inn owner of his receipts.
11/94 Aum members broke into the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department in order to steal drivers license data.
Followers were arrested on suspicion of breaking into the offices of Nippon Electronics Co. The purpose was to obtain information on laser technology.
12/94 Aum members broke into the Hiroshima Factory of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in order to steal technical documents on weapons such tanks and artillery.
Aum members killed Tadahiro Hamaguchi by spraying him with VX while he was walking on an Osaka street. Aum may have attacked an 83-year-old man with VX gas.
1/95 Tomomitsu Niimi gas at Hiroyuki Nagaoka head of the Association of the Victims of Aum Shindkyo. Nagaoka survived but is in a coma.
2/95 A village office administrator was kidnapped. Killed by drug injection. Body burned in microwave incinerator located in underground room in Satyam No. 2.
Aum follower,otaro Ochida, a pharmacist, is hanged in the Aum facilities. His body is burned in microwave incinerator. Eight other bodies were burned in the incinerator.
3/95 Prior to the 20 March gas attack:
Aum members assisted in a firebombing attack on the Aum headquarters in Tokyo in an attempt to inspire public sympathy for the Aum just before the Tokyo subway gas attack. Three pieces of luggage coaining sprayers were placed in the Kasumigaseki subway station.
An Osaka University student was injured, captured and confined by Aum members.
Six former Aum members were confined by Aum members, police found them during raids on Aum facilities following the sarin gas attack.
On March 20, 1995, to the public at large, a new form of terrorism was unleashed with the Aum's release of its deadly sarin gas in the Tokyo subway system. Yet the events leading up to that incident confirm that the Aum had used sarin to kill before in Matsumoto, a small industrial and resort city of several hundred thousand people 100 miles west of Tokyo. 1995
Late in the evening of June 27, 1994, a substance later identified as sarin seeped through the open windows of apartments and houses in the Kaichi Heights neighborhood near the old heart of the city. Seven people eventually died and over 500 people were injured including a number still in comas.
Suspicion initially fell on a former chemical salesman at whose residence various chemicals were found. He was believed to have accidentally released the gas while mixing a home-made batch of herbicide for his garden. This later turned out to be physically impossible since none of the compounds found in his house could have caused the toxic results of the incident. In addition, traces of sarin were found near where witnesses had seen individuals in a vehicle releasing some type of gas.
This and other evidence led a number of non-government experts to suspect terrorist involvement in the Matsumoto affair. Kyle Olson, in January 1995, provided the most accurate analysis of Matsumoto, viewing the event as the handiwork of un-named terrorists. He opined that it was merely a dry run and that the next sarin attack would be in the Tokyo subway system. Other commentators noted the interest of the Aum in sarin and clearly hinted that the Aum may have been behind the Matsumoto incident.
It was not until after the police arrests subsequent to the Tokyo incident that incontrovertible evidence was developed linking the Aum to Matsumoto. The Staff has confirmed that the Japanese police have confessions from a number of Aum followers implicating the Aum to this gas attack. Masami Tsuchiya, head of the cult's chemical squad, has admitted he developed the sarin used for the attack and that Hideo Murai, the deceased Science and Technology Minister for the Aum, and six other senior cult members were involved.
Tsuchiya also has provided the police a motive for this incident. He has indicated that the Aum attack was linked to a court case then being heard in Matsumoto. The Aum was then defending itself against fraud charges brought by various land owners in Matsumoto. On May 10th, the trial had concluded and the verdict was schedul to be released on July 19, 1994. The Aum decided to target the three judges hearing the case in order to prevent them from returning a decision against the Aum.
The sarin was released within 30 feet of the dormitory where the three judges were staying. All three judges fell ill as a result of the attack and the decision was delayed as planned by the Aum. As of the Staff trip to Tokyo, the Matsumoto court has still not reconvened to release its decision.
Tsuchiya has also told the police that initially they had planned to attack the judges while they were working in the Matsumoto branch of the Nagano District Court. Only after arriving there did they learn that the judges had left the courthouse and returned to their residences. They then proceeded to the parking lot next to the judges dormitory and sprayed the sarin out of a nozzle device attached to a truck specially outfitted for that purpose. Apparely an electric heater was used to heat the liquid into a gaseous state for dispersal by an electrically powered fan. The gassing lasted for approximately 10 minutes releasing a gas that was carried on a southeasterly wind into the targeted residences.
Tsuchiya also confirmed that the Aum used Matsumoto as a test run. The cult had never before tried the sarin gas on a large scale dispersal. Matsumoto proved to them that they could effectively deliver it. The police have recovered portions of the trk and the special fittings used in the Matsumoto attack.
Apparently the truck and its device were taken apart soon after the Matsumoto incident so it was not available to be used the following year in Tokyo. It has been suggested that the Aum quickly destroyed this device when an accidental spill of sarin at their Kamikuishiki facility looked like it was going to attract police attention. On July 9th, two weeks after Matsumoto, the dairy farming region near the Aum compound was swept by a strong and strange odor that allegedly killed vegetation near the Aum compound. Police were called to the scene but were denied access to the sect's compound. Although the police did not pursue the matter any further, the Aum apparently was concerned that they might discover the Matsumoto vehicles and therefore destroyed the evidence.
This would later have ramifications to the citizens of Tokyo. When R came time for the Aum to strike again, it has been surmised that they lacked their only tested delivery system. Its absence may have played a major role in the Aum's choice of target and method of delivery.
On the morning of March 20, 1995, the Aum attempted to murder tens of thousands of innocent people in order to create unimaginable disorder and chaos. Unlike the earlier Matsumoto incident in which the Aum targeted a specific group of people, the Tokyo subway attack involved the indiscriminate use of the chemical nerve age sarin on an enormous civilian population. Had the chemical mixture and delivery system been slightly different, the resulting tragedy would be unprecedented, if not beyond comprehension.
The Aum's plan was to place approximately eleven small containers of sarin on five trains running on three major lines of the Tokyo subway system (Marunouchi, Chiyoda and Hibiya). The subway system has over 5 million riders daily. The selected trains were scheduled to arrive at the central Kasumigaseki station within four minutes of each other at the height of the morning rush hour between 8:00 and 8:10 a.m. The containers, which were made out of nylon polyethylene and wrapped in newspaper, were placed on baggage racks or left on the floor and punctured by Aum members to release their deadly cargoes of sarin.
The station towards which the cars were converging, Kasumigaseki, is one of the largest where a number of subway lines converge. It is also at the heart of Tokyo's government district. Within walking distance is the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Tax Administrator, Labor, Health & Welfare, as well as both the Tokyo Police and the National Police Agency (the equivalent of the FBI). Many of the riders who use the Kasumigaseki station are employees and officials of those agencies.
As planned, most of the stricken trains converged at the height of rush hour and disgorged their sick and frightened passengers. The Aum's plan succeeded in killing twelve and injuring 5,500 people. It also succeeded in causing panic and chaos in the station and throughout Tokyo as commuters and subway workers alike collapsed into severe fits of coughing, choking and vomiting. It was only a fortunate mistake by the Aum in the preparation of the special batch of sarin used that day and the inferior dissemination system used to deploy it that limited the number of casualties. If not for these mistakes, the Staff has been told by chemical weapons experts, tens of thousands could have easily been killed in this busy subway system that moves over five million passengers a day.
Despite the poor quality of the sarin and its inadequate delivery system, the scene under the streets of Tokyo that morning was terrifying. Reports reviewed by the Staff describe men, women and children in panic, coughing uncontrollably, vomiting and collapsing in heaps. On one of the platforms over 30 passengers collapsed after being overcome with fumes that were strong enough to be smelled one floor above at the ticket counters. Subway workers and other emergency workers who first arrived on the scene quickly became victims themselves.
One first hand account reviewed by the staff was from one of the two Americans injured in the event. This civilian U.S. employee stated that the first indication he had of a problem was when he changed trains at Kasumigaseki station and noted a peculiar odor. He wted for a train for approximately 20 minutes without realizing what was going on, in part because he spoke little if any Japanese. During this time he began to experience troubled breathing, headache, and pain in his chest and throat. He explained that the harder he tried to breathe the more his chest hurt. By the time he was taken to the hospital he had lost most eye-hand coordination and voluntary control over his bodily functions. He soon lost consciousness and h to be revived at the hospital. Fortunately, he survived and has fully recovered.
The Tokyo attack was first widely viewed as the long-prophesied attack by the Aum on the Japanese government. Because all of the trains targeted were scheduled to arrive at Kasumigaseki station, it was believed that the attack was targeted on the numerous government bureaucrats working there. However, the Japanese government now believes that the gas attack was meant merely to be a diversionary feint in anticipation of a planned government raid against the Aum. The Staff has learned that the police have evidence that the Aum leadership planned the Tokyo attack after they discovered that the police were going to raid their facilities in search for a kidnaped notary public. (it later was discovered that the Aum had killed this individual.) They, including Asahara, the Aum's Construction Minister Hayakawa, the Aum's Home Affairs Minister Niimi, and the Aum's late Science & Technology Minister, Murai, reasoned that thearin attack would disrupt the police investigation, delay the searches and give them additional time to flee or destroy incriminating evidence.
The Staff learned that the police have evidence that showing after Asahara approved the sarin attack, Murai was given the task of carrying it out. He, in turn, met with Ikuo Hayashi, the Aum's Treatment Minister, Tomomasa Nakagawa, an Aum doctor, and Seiichi Endo, the Aum's Health and Welfare Minister, to decide upon the specific plan of attack. They decided to use the bags of sarin placed on the specific trains.
Specific assignments were given out. Ikuo Hayashi was assigned to place the sarin bags on the Chiyoda line; Toru Toyoda and Yasuo Hayashi the Hibiya line; and, Masato Yokoyama and Kenichi Hirose the Marunouchi line. Five others were selected as lookouts and drivers - Tomomitsu Niimi, Shigeo Sugimoto, Kouichi Kitamura, Katsuya Takahashi and Kyotaka Sotozaki. Yoshihiro Inoue, the Aum's Intelligence Minister, was assigned to be field supervisor for the operation.
The various teams carried out their missions and then returned to a special hideout in Tokyo where they each were given an injection of an antidote for sarin. They then changed their clothes and burned those they had worn as well as the umbrellas used to pierce the sarin packages. When they reported their successful operation to Asahara, he is reported to have commented "how nice it is that their souls were removed by Shiva".
Within days of the Tokyo subway attack, the law enforcement community and the public-at-large scrutinized the Aum as the group responsible for the tragedy. Among the documents obtained at the cult's New York Office, the Staff found scraps of paper that when pieced together appear to be an English translation of Asahara's March 24th defense of the cult that as publicly disseminated. In the statement Asahara claims he has been sprayed with poisonous gas along with hundreds of his disciples. He further attempts to explain away the tremendous stockpiles of chemical weapon precursors that were discovered by Japanese authorities days earlier. Specifically, he claims the chemicals were for legitimate manufacturing purposes.
The Staff has asked chemical experts to review Asahara's March 24th explanation to assess the scientific veracity of his claims. The expts advised the Staff that Asahara's claims are 'not believable" based upon Asahara's asserted usage of the chemicals. Furthermore, the experts confirm that the various chemicals all have general or specific applications in the development of chemical weapons such as sarin and cyanide gas.
From March 23, 1995 through September 4, 1995, the police have conducted over 500 raids on approximately 300 locations, confiscating 66,000 items of evidence in their investigation of the Aum. The number of Aum followers arrested have reached 398 in 240 separate cases. Those arrested and or indicted have included almost the entire hierarchy of the cult. They have been charged with a variety of offenses ranging from murder, conspiracy, kidnapping, assault, kidnapping, obstruction of justice, harboring, and theft, to petty traffic and licensing offenses. Many of those charged have started to appear for trials, including Asahara who as scheduled to start trial on Thursday, October 26th. He fired his attorney the day before the trial.
Despite this aggressive response from the Japanese authorities, criminal activities of the Aum did not come to an end. As a matter of some concern, a number of significant events have occurred since the Tokyo subway incident involving the Aum.
For example, on March 30, 1995, only ten days after the sarin subway attack, Takaji Kunimatsu, the Commissioner General of the National Police Agency, was ot by a lone gunman. Japanese government material, obtained by the Staff, reveal this shooting occurred in front of his residence as he was leaving for work. He was seriously wounded by three shots from what police believe was a U.S. made Colt 38 caliber revolver. The would-be assassin fired four time from a distance of approximately 60 feet away. He then fled from the scene on a bicycle.
Although the assailant is still at-large, the Aum has been implicated in the crime by a police investigation that resulted last month with the police arresting Mitsuo Sunaoshi who belonged to the Aum's Construction Ministry.
On April 15, 1995, the entire country was put on alert over rumors that Asahara had predicted something terrible was going to happen on that date. Although nothing occurred, over 20,000 additional police were deployed in full riot gear, bulletproof vests and gas masks throughout Tokyo. Many stores shut down out -of concern over a potential gas attack. Scores of people stayed away from work or avoided the subway system. Four days later, on April 19, 1995, in what appears to be a copy cat attack, more than 500 people were sickened and taken to hospitals complaining of stinging eyes, sore throats, nausea, coughs and dizziness after inhaling a mysterious gas released in three different places around Japanese Railway's Yokohama Station. Most were released that day from the hospital and no serious injuries or eaths occurred. The Police originally claimed evidence of phosgene but later retracted that statement and indicated they could not identify the substance. The police have arrested a non-Aum.
Then, on April 23 1995, one month after the subway incident, Hideo Murai, the Aum's Science and Technology Minister, was stabbed repeatedly while in front of the Aum headquarters. He later died from his wounds. His assailant, Hiroyuki Jo, was immediately arrested for this daring attack that occurred in front of hundreds of police and press cameramen.
Weeks later, a member of Japanese organized crime, Kenji Kamimine, was arrested in regards to this murder. The police suspect that the murder of Murai had been ordered by either organized crime or Asahara in order to prevent him from revealing their relationship. The case continues to be investigated.
On May 5, 1995, the Aum struck again by attacking Shinjuku Station, one of busiest in Tokyo, with another chemical weapon. In this case, the Aum used sodium cyanide placed in a public restroom. The chemical device was a rather simple binary weapon consisting of two plastic bags, one containing 2 liters of powdered sodium cyanide and the other containing about 1.5 liters of diluted sulfuric acid. When discovered, the bags were ablaze. Had they broken open a chemical reaction would have occurred producing deadly hydrogen cyanide gas. Chemical experts have estimated that the amount of gas that would have been released would have been sufficient to kill between 10,000 and 20,000 people.
On May 16, 1995, Asahara was finally arrested. That evening, the Aum again struck. A letter bomb mailed to the Governor of Metropolitan Tokyo exploded in the hands of his secretary, blowing off the fingers of his left hand. Five members of the Aum, including its Intelligence Chief Inoue, were indicted for producing and posting the explosive on May 11th.
As late as July 4, 1995, another gas attack was averted in Tokyo. Again, this involved hydrogen cyanide and a rest room. In this case 4 devices were found in rest rooms at the Kayaba- cho, Tokyo and Ginza subway stations and the Japanese Railway suburban Shinjuku station. The devices were different than the ones used on May 5th but all used the similar principal of mixing two separate bags containing sulfuric acid and sodium cyanide. None of the devices worked.
The threat still remains that other devices may be employed in the future especialy during some of the more important trials. The Staff has been advised that not all of the chemicals produced by the Aum have been accounted for, nor have all of the more fanatical members been arrested. As an example, up to at least early September during the Staffs fact-finding trip, the entire city of Tokyo was festooned with wanted posters for some of the Aum members. In addition, the Aum still has substantial funds. Only a portion of its original $1 billion assets has been seized or frozen by authorities.
Until all of the fanatical members, their weapons of mass destruction and their assets are accounted for, there is still some justification for the, Japanese to be concerned. Additionally, until our government is satisfied that it knows all that it needs to know about the capabilities of the Aum, including its shopping list of high tech items, its intentions involving our Nation and its international links to other countries, we in the United States are justified to be concerned.