Japanese police, seizing $7.9 million in cash and 22 pounds of gold in a massive raid Wednesday on the secretive religious group Aum Sublime Truth, discovered a huge cache of toxic chemicals similar to those used in a lethal assault on Tokyo’s subways earlier this week.
The find, which included 200 drums of toxins and chemical equipment that can be used to produce deadly sarin nerve gas, may provide the first firm links to the attack that killed 10 and afflicted more than 5,000 morning commuters.
Police also discovered a magazine being prepared for publication that warned that poison gas attacks or other calamities would kill 90 percent of people living in major cities.
The sect’s predictions, which specifically warned about sarin, the nerve gas used in the subway attack, are adding to jitters in Tokyo, where security has been tightened throughout the transportation system.
More than 1,000 police launched another search today of Aum’s compound near Mount Fuji northwest of Tokyo. Details of that sweep were not immediately available.
But in Wednesday’s raid, police in gas masks and riot gear arrested four sect members on charges of illegally confining some of the 50 people found prone in a prayer room at the Aum compound in the wooded foothills of Mount Fuji.
Most were weak - some severely dehydrated and close to starvation - and six were hospitalized after apparently having fasted for 10 days as part of enforced religious training. Although the patients reportedly were not talking, a 79-year-old man told a nurse they ate only what they were given.
One woman reportedly told police she was confined and forcibly made to drink medicines and receive injections, NHK television network reported. Three of those arrested were doctors at the group’s hospital.
The woman, 23, immediately sought police protection when officials stormed the compound in the early-morning raid. The woman, who was hiding in a toilet stall, claimed she had been confined in a container.
The man at the center of the turmoil, Aum leader Shoko Asahara, was not found at any of the 25 locations raided. But he delivered an apocalyptic message by radio to followers urging them to come to his aid to accomplish his “salvation plan.”
“Disciples, the time to awaken and help me is upon you,” Asahara was quoted as saying in a message reportedly broadcast from a sect radio station in Vladivostok. “Let’s carry out the salvation plan and greet death without regrets.”
Sect members, screaming “Illegal search!” and “We oppose violence!” tussled with police outside the raided buildings and used vehicles to form a barricade at one compound. Sect attorney Yoshinobu Aoyama called the raid “unprecedented religious suppression” and said the police committed illegal acts, from injuring followers to conducting the search.
Sublime Truth members demanded to be allowed to witness the search, but police forcibly removed many from buildings and barred them from re-entering.
The group has denied involvement in the deadly subway attack, which afflicted more than 5,000 people with nausea, blurred vision, breathing problems and other symptoms when packages leaking sarin were left on five trains near Japan’s government center Monday.
Aum Sublime Truth, which practices forms of Buddhism and yoga and believes the world is headed for doomsday, claims 10,000 members in Japan and 30,000 in Russia. It has been implicated in several abductions and linked to another sarin case.
Officials are searching for links to a sarin poisoning last year in Matsumoto city in Nagano prefecture northwest of Tokyo, where seven were killed and more than 200 afflicted when the deadly gas was released in a neighborhood. Chemical weapons experts speculate the poisoning may have been a trial run for Monday’s subway attack.
Wednesday’s raid was officially aimed at finding clues to the disappearance of Kiyoshi Kariya, a 68-year-old notary believed to have tried to help his sister leave the sect.
Witnesses saw Kariya being forcibly dragged into a van and driven away by several men on his way home from work Feb. 28.
Authorities obtained search warrants for Wednesday’s raid after a search of a rental vehicle used in the abduction turned up both traces of Kariya’s blood and a fingerprint identified as that of Takeshi Matsumoto, 29, a high-ranking Sublime Truth official. The whereabouts of Matsumoto and Kariya remained unknown.
But police found a massive store of chemicals that reportedly surprised even them. Among the substances found were isopropyl, an indispensable raw material for sarin, and bottles marked acetonitrile, a solvent used to turn liquid sarin into gas.
xxxx A CONTROVERSIAL JAPANESE CULT Portrait of Aum Shinri Kyo, a charismatic Japanese cult raided Wednesday in connection with Monday’s nerve gas attack in Tokyo: Name: Aum Shinri Kyo or Sublime Truth; “Aum” means creation or destruction Highest god: Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and reproduction Founded: In 1984 by Shoko Asahara, a computer company head who claims to have the power of levitation Practices: Study yoga and meditation; serious followers live in rural communes Followers: About 10,000 Controversies: Group has been connected in recent years to kidnappings, release of unusual chemicals SOURCE: News reports; research by Pat Carr Knight-Ridder Tribune
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