Cyanide Gas Attack Thwarted in Tokyo Subway


An apparent attempt to stage another poison gas attack on a Tokyo subway line--which experts said could have killed 20,000 people--was thwarted Friday night, police said today.

Subway workers alerted to a fire in a men’s restroom in an underground passageway outside Shinjuku station on the Marunouchi subway line removed two bags containing chemicals that, if mixed, would have produced hydrogen cyanide.

A bag containing one of the chemicals was set afire so that ultimately another bag adjacent to it containing the second chemical would have ignited, allowing the chemical mix to occur, police said.


The bags were placed near the entrance to the toilet, which is located about 30 feet from an entrance to the subway.

A man alerted subway workers to the fire, and they extinguished the flames.

“When we poured water on the burning bag, white smoke filled the restroom,” Kyodo News Agency quoted station attendant Katsuyuki Orui as saying.

“I got a sore throat and went to a hospital for treatment. But when I came back and learned what a horrible thing this was, shivers ran up my spine,” he said.

Sodium cyanide and diluted sulfuric acid were found at the scene.

Yoshihisa Shibanuma, a professor at Meiji Pharmaceutical University, told a reporter for TV Asahi that, had the chemicals mixed, the resulting poisonous gas could have killed between 20,000 and 25,000 people.

Police said the incident resembled a multiple attack with sarin nerve gas at 11 locations on three Tokyo subway lines March 20 that killed 12 people and afflicted more than 5,500 others.

A doomsday religious sect, Aum Supreme Truth, has been under investigation in the March 20 attack. More than 150 of its members have been arrested on a variety of charges, but none has been charged with releasing the poison gas.

The Shinjuku station complex is used by more than 1 million commuters a day, although fewer than that number passed through the area Friday because of a national holiday. The incident is being investigated as attempted homicide.