Japanese Sect Linked to Germ Weapons Plan


Japanese investigators believe that the secretive cult suspected of responsibility for last week’s poison gas attack in the subways here also may have been trying to produce biological weapons, according to media reports today.

Police raiding a facility of the Aum Supreme Truth religious sect reportedly confiscated bacteria-production materials and a germ, a kind of botulinus that can produce a deadly toxin.

Based on those seizures, the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun said, officials think the sect may have been trying to produce biological weapons in addition to the sarin nerve gas used for the Tokyo attack.


The newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported that police found equipment for production of bacteria, including nutrients, at the Aum complex in Kamikuishiki, a village 65 miles southwest of Tokyo.

Some pharmaceutical companies use botulinus for experiments, and there is information that an Aum-affiliated company bought huge amounts of botulinus from such a firm, Mainichi reported. The bacteria involved is the same or similar to that which can cause food poisoning.

In nature, there are eight different types of botulinus, of which three are related to food poisoning, Mainichi reported. One gram of poison produced from the most dangerous type could theoretically kill 17 million people, Mainichi said, describing it as the strongest known poison in the world.

On Monday, police said that the same kind of solvent that was mixed with the sarin used in last week’s terror attack has also been seized in raids on Aum Supreme Truth facilities.

Chemical analysis has confirmed that the solvent was among 40 kinds of chemicals confiscated from the sect’s complex in Kamikuishiki, NHK Television reported Monday night. The solvent and sarin were in heavy plastic bags wrapped in newspapers left in five places by the attackers, NHK said.

Investigators also found evidence suggesting that each container left by the attackers may have had two chemicals that produce sarin gas when combined, Kyodo News Service reported.


“It is suspected that someone who planted the containers aimed to generate sarin gas by causing a chemical reaction between the two chemicals packed separately in each container, and escaped before the poison gas dispersed into the air,” Kyodo said.

Police said a sarin byproduct found in the subways, white fumes flowing out of two of the five containers and variations in the degree of gas poisoning at different attack sites all support this suspicion, Kyodo said.

The speed at which the two chemicals were mixed may have determined the degree of injury to passengers, with those in a fumes-filled car of the Hibiya Line the most seriously affected, police said.

A man who was hospitalized from sarin poisoning after leaving something wrapped in newspaper on the Hibiya Line is considered to be a key suspect, and he will be questioned after further recovery, Yomiuri Shimbun reported today.

Police searching buildings in the Kamikuishiki complex Monday found a small, hidden underground room made of concrete that they said may have been used for confinement. It contained one wooden chair and there was a pool of water on the floor, police said.

Various reports have said the sect sometimes did not allow followers to leave but rather kept them confined or forced them to take intravenous injections or pills. One former follower has been quoted as saying that he had witnessed bodies being buried on grounds owned by the sect.


Police had earlier discovered an underground bunker that was being used as a warehouse. A police official said officers were continuing to search the sprawling complex for other possible underground facilities.

About 10 Supreme Truth followers gathered outside one of the buildings before police began Monday’s search but were led away by another member. It is not known how many sect members are still living in the complex.

Police are seeking Supreme Truth leader Shoko Asahara for questioning but have not brought any formal charges against the sect over the Tokyo subway attack. The raids on the sect compound are being conducted under a search warrant issued for suspicion of “preparation to commit murder.”

Almost immediately after the March 20 subway attack, police and journalists realized that the targeted trains were scheduled to arrive within minutes of each other at the peak of rush hour at Kasumigaseki station, in the heart of the government district.

Recent news reports have focused more on specific cars where the poison gas was released, noting that all five sarin containers were placed so as to affect passengers headed for exit A2. That exit leads directly to the National Police Agency. Next door is the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.

In Moscow, a judge hearing a case brought against the cult by parents of its followers issued an order Monday barring the sect’s Moscow branch from conducting activities until a decision is reached in the case, NHK Television reported.


The parents’ court case seeks compensation for damages and a cessation of sect activities as a religious organization.

Moscow’s leading daily newspaper also reported Monday that Asahara received red-carpet treatment in Russia three years ago from the head of the Russian Security Council.

In a bizarre show of hospitality, Security Council Secretary Oleg I. Lobov, then a presidential adviser, invited Asahara to visit Moscow in 1992, arranged for him to meet top Russian leadership and gave the sect use of a prestigious building not far from the Kremlin, Izvestia newspaper reported.

Supreme Truth, which claims about 30,000 members in Russia, was evicted from the building only a month ago, the paper said.

Times staff writer Sonni Efron in Moscow contributed to this report.