Leader of Japan nerve gas attack sentenced

Some highlights (if you can call them that) from an article about an infamous Japanese cult leader, many of whose followers were highly educated scientists:

Leader of Japan Nerve Gas Attack Sentenced

By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press Writer

TOKYO – Former doomsday cult guru Shoko Asahara was convicted Friday and sentenced to hang for masterminding the deadly 1995 nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway and other crimes that killed 27 people and alerted the world to the danger of high-tech terrorism.

The prosecution, however, depended on testimony from former followers who said Asahara planned and ordered their murderous deeds.

Asahara also was convicted of masterminding a June 1994 sarin gas attack in the central city of Matsumoto, the murder of anti-Aum lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family, and the killings of wayward followers and people helping members leave the cult.

At its height, Aum claimed 10,000 [!] followers in Japan and 30,000 [!] in Russia. The guru used a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and yoga to entice his devotees, who engaged in bizarre rituals such as drinking his blood and wearing electrical caps that they believed kept their brain waves in tune with his.

Some said they were saddened that Asahara never acknowledged responsibility for the crimes or apologized to victims. He rarely spoke during the trial, only occasionally babbling incoherently in broken English.

Aum’s weapons program was carried out by highly educated scientists from Japan’s best schools. Asahara’s flock was bewitched by his predictions of an Armageddon that only cult members would survive.

Police say the cult’s remnants — renamed Aleph since 2000 — show signs of greater allegiance to Asahara. Agents this month raided the offices of the group, which still claims 1,650 members in Japan and 300 in Russia.

The group released a statement after the verdict, apologizing to the families of victims of Aum’s crimes and vowing to compensate them.

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