Seven men were hanged in as many different prisons yesterday as the Japanese government begins to close the book on the 1995 sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway system. The executed men, all from the suppressed cult Aum Shinrikyo, were cult leader Chizuo Matsumoto (aka Shoko Asahara) and his main subordinates:
Kiyohide Hayakawa was a close aide to the leader. He helped expand the cult’s membership worldwide. Hayakawa was involved in the murder of a lawyer who was critical of the group.
Yoshihiro Inoue joined the cult as a high school student. He played a role in attacks using nerve agents sarin and VX.
Tomomitsu Niimi was held responsible for killing a total of 26 people in 11 different incidents.
Masami Tsuchiya was central to the cult’s development of chemical weapons, including sarin and VX nerve agents.
Tomomasa Nakagawa was a personal doctor and close aide to the Matsumoto. Nakagawa was held responsible for the deaths of 25 people in 11 different incidents.
Seiichi Endo produced the sarin that was used in the subway attack. He was also involved in another deadly sarin gas attack in central Japan in 1994.
What had started (naturally) as a yoga studio in 1984 had become a dangerous cult by the early 1990s. Asahara claimed to have supernatural powers and his followers, who eventually numbered about 11,000, dealt severely with any violations of discipline or attempts to leave the cult. In 1993, the cult started manufacturing sarin gas and carried out an early attack in the Japanese city of Matsumoto in June 1993. In an investigation eerily reminiscent of the FBI’s investigation of Richard Jewell (Atlanta bombing) and Stephen Hatfill (2001 anthrax attack), an innocent man was blamed for that attacked and hounded by the media. The apex of the cult’s power came during morning rush hour on March 20, 1995, when they punctured plastic bags with sarin nerve gas on three Tokyo subway lines. Thirteen people were killed and more than 6,000 injured.
Asahara’s death sentence was affirmed in 2006 but trials for the attack continued until this year. Six more men are on death row and I’d suspect they will exit shortly.
Japan has an execution at each of its major prisons. Capital prisoners are kept in solitary confinement. They are allowed two exercise periods per week. No visits are permitted. They are allowed three books and exercise within the cell is forbidden. Execution dates are determined by the minister overseeing Japan’s prison system and prisoners only learn they are to be executed when guards remove them from the cell and take them to the death chamber. Families and lawyers are informed about the execution after the fact.