Shoko Asahara—the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult behind the 1995 sarin gas attack in Tokyo’s subway that killed 13 and poisoned thousands—has been executed.
Asahara, birth name Chizuo Matsumoto, was killed along with six other members of the cult this morning. They were all hanged, which is the only method of death penalty execution used in Japan.
Aum Shinrikyo’s weapon of choice was sarin, an odourless, colorless toxic nerve gas that can paralyse or kill someone within one minute after inhalation.
On March 20, 1995, members of the cult carried plastic bags filled with sarin and umbrellas with sharpened tips onto the subway lines passing under the political district in the capital city. As the trains approached Kasumigaseki Station, they punctured the bags using the umbrellas. Seconds after the bags began leaking, people started choking, vomiting, and collapsing. The cult believed that the people who died at the hands of their cult would be saved from going to hell at the world’s end, which was supposed to happen soon.
In the months that followed, police arrested dozens of cult members. Asahara was arrested in May 1995. He claimed responsibility for the attacks in 1996, and told lawyers they would die if they kept probing members of his cult.
Asahara created Aum Shinrikyo in 1984. The cult adopted many Buddhist and Hindu ideas, but in the early ‘90s, Asahar claimed to be Christ and started leaning into Christian apocalyptic prophesies. The cult had tens of thousands of followers at its peak. Many members were engineers and scientists—some of whom tested sarin and other toxic gases on an Australian sheep farm.
There have been several other deaths associated with the cult. Asahara was also found guilty of a 1994 sarin attack in Matsumoto that took eight lives. In that attack, the group sprayed the gas from a modified vehicle. The cult first killed someone in 1989—a lawyer involved with a class action suit against the group, along with the lawyer’s wife and one-year-old child. Some members who tried to leave the group were strangled to death.