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Faith, Fanaticism, and Fear: Aum Shinrikyo--The Birth and Death of a Terrorist Organization

NCJ Number
Forensic Examiner Volume: 15 Issue: 1 Dated: Spring 2006 Pages: 37-45
Erica Simons B.S.
Date Published
9 pages
After reviewing the history of the Japanese terrorist cult Aum Shinrikyo and its founder Chizuo Matsumoto, this article describes its terrorist attacks, which included the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system that killed 12 and injured 5,500; the official response to these attacks and the subsequent direction of the cult are also described.
The impetus for the cult was its founder's religious fervor, which emerged in 1986 as an eclectic mix of Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, and Christian beliefs. Aum's official recognition as a religious organization qualified it to pursue its activities without oversight from Japanese authorities. Cult leaders' efforts to control followers intensified and expanded to efforts to gain political control of the country through the election process. Following the failure of 24 Aum members to gain office in 1989 elections, Aum began to create chemical weapons around 1993. This involved an estimated investment of $30 million and employed many scientists and skilled workers. One of Aum's earliest attacks with a toxic substance was the use of a truck equipped with a device to spray Clostridium botulinum, the cause of botulism. Deployed in the area of the Japanese parliament, the attack was intended to destroy Japan's Government by killing as many leaders as possible. Although the dispersal equipment worked successfully, the toxin failed. Other failed attempted attacks and one successful attack aimed at three judges involved in a case against AUM were followed by the sarin attack on the Tokyo Subway on March 20, 1995. Many Aum followers, including most of the cult's leaders have been tried and convicted of various crimes related to the cult's violent and illegal activities. A new law was enacted to prohibit the creation, possession, and use of sarin and other toxic agents, and laws that have prohibited police intervention into religious organization's activities have been modified.


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