Japanese investigators believe the secretive cult suspected of being responsible for the recent poison gas attack in Tokyo’s subways also may have been trying to produce biological weapons, Japan’s news media reported today.
Police raiding a facility of the Aum Supreme Truth religious sect reportedly confiscated bacteria-production materials and a germ, a kind of botulinus that can produce a deadly toxin.
Based on those seizures, the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun said, officials think the sect may have been trying to produce biological weapons in addition to the deadly sarin nerve gas used for the Tokyo attack.
The newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported that police found equipment for production of bacteria, including nutrients, at the Aum complex in Kamikuishiki, a village 65 miles southwest of Tokyo.
Some pharmaceutical companies use botulinus for experiments, and there is information that an Aumaffiliated company bought massive amounts of botulinus from such a firm, Mainichi reported. The bacterium involved is the same or similar to that which can cause food poisoning.
In nature, there are eight different types of botulinus, of which three are related to food poisoning, Mainichi reported. One gram of poison produced from the most dangerous type theoretically could kill 17 million people, Mainichi said, describing it as the strongest known poison in the world.
On Monday, police said that the same kind of solvent that was mixed with the deadly sarin nerve gas used in the terror attack in Tokyo’s subway system also has been seized in raids on Aum Supreme Truth facilities.
Chemical analysis has confirmed that the solvent was among 40 kinds of chemicals confiscated from the sect’s complex in Kamikuishiki, NHK Television reported Monday. The solvent and sarin were in heavy plastic bags wrapped in newspapers left in five different places by the attackers, NHK said.
“A detailed investigation is under way into when and how Aum Supreme Truth obtained this solvent,” NHK reported. “A very serious investigation is being carried out in order to clarify any relationship with the subway incident.”
Ten people were killed and 5,000 sickened in the March 20 attack. Hundreds of people remain hospitalized.
Investigators also found evidence suggesting that each container left by the attackers may have had two different chemicals that produce sarin gas when combined, Kyodo News Service reported.
“It is suspected that someone who planted the containers aimed to generate sarin gas by causing a chemical reaction between the two chemicals packed separately in each container, and escaped before the poison gas dispersed into the air,” Kyodo said.
Police said a sarin byproduct found in the subways, white fumes flowing out of two of the five containers and variations in the degree of gas poisoning at different attack sites all support this suspicion, Kyodo said.
Police explained that the speed at which the two chemicals were mixed may have determined the degree of injury to passengers, with those in a fumes-filled car of the Hibiya Line the most seriously affected.
Sarin can be produced in various ways, one of which generates white fumes and leaves a residue of methylphosphine acid diisopropyl, according to chemical experts cited by Kyodo.
This byproduct was found not only on the subways but also at the site of a sarin gas incident that killed seven and injured about 200 in the central Japan city of Matsumoto last year, police have said. The same chemical was also found near the Aum complex in Kamikuishiki last year after neighbors complained of a foul odor.
Police searching buildings in the Kamikuishiki complex Monday found a small, hidden underground room made of concrete that they said may have been used for confinement. It contained one wooden chair and there was a pool of water on the floor, police said.
Various reports have said the sect sometimes did not allow followers to leave but rather kept them confined or forced them to take intravenous injections or pills. One former follower has been quoted as saying that he had witnessed bodies being buried on grounds owned by the sect.
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