October 5, 1995 in Nation/World

Japanese Cult Leader Admits Nerve Gas Attack, Reports Say

Associated Press

The cult guru charged with murder in a nerve gas attack on Tokyo’s subways has confessed to that and other killings, reports said Wednesday. His cult said the confession had been forced.

The cult - Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth - and some reports also said the confession was not strong enough to be admissible as evidence. Police would not comment.

Cult leader Shoko Asahara has been charged with masterminding the March 20 subway attack that killed 12 and sickened 5,500. Police believe cult members carried out the attack to fulfill Asahara’s predictions of doom.

Asahara has previously denied involvement in the gassing.

He is also charged in a nerve gas attack in central Japan last year that killed seven people; with directing the 1989 murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family; and with involvement in the murder in February of a man who was helping his younger sister try to leave the cult.

“In each case, I gave the order and group leaders carried it out,” Japan’s public television network, NHK, quoted Asahara as telling investigators in a written confession.

But the cult almost immediately drafted a statement quoting Asahara’s lawyer as saying the confession had been forced and would be inadmissible.

A white-robed follower appeared outside the cult’s headquarters late Wednesday night, handing out photocopies of the unsigned statement.

The Tokyo Broadcasting System, a commercial network, quoted Asahara as saying “I submit my unconditional surrender” but also said his confession didn’t appear concrete enough to be used.

Signed confessions almost guarantee convictions in Japan, and obtaining them is a standard tactic of public prosecutors, who work closely with police. They are one reason for Japan’s conviction rate of 99 percent in cases that go to trial.

Legal experts have predicted Asahara’s trial, to start Oct. 26, could take years if he maintains his innocence. If he is convicted and loses appeals, he could face the death penalty.

While most of the cult’s leaders are in jail, seven fugitive members are being sought on suspicion of involvement in the subway attack and other crimes.

© Copyright 1995 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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