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1995 Japanese Subway Gas Attack in Tokyo

Updated on June 2, 2013

Terror struck Tokyo in the morning on March 20th, 1995.

It was around 8.15 am when ten men from the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo released deadly sarin gas into the subway of the Japanese capital.

The aftermath was horrific. Injured commuters lay on the ground with blood gushing from their mouths. Twelve people died. More than 5500 were hospitalized.

What is Aum Shinrikyo?

Aum Shinrikyo ('SupremeTruth') was a Japanese cult which combined Buddhism and yoga with apocalyptic Christian philosophy. In several countries, the group is considered to be a terrorist organization.

The cult was led by the partially blind Matsumoto Chizuo, known within the cult as Shoko Asahara. Founding the cult in his one-bedroom apartment in 1984, Asahara promised health improvement and the achievement of life goals through his teachings. Many young Japanese people, unhappy with Japanese society, joined him.

The cult grew and in 1989 it became a religious corporation. By 1995 it had a built up a following of more than 40,000 people worldwide and had amassed assets of $1 billion. Preparing for an apocalypse, the cult stockpiled weapons and acquired biochemical weapons. Members also murdered their critics.

In June 1994, the cult carried out a sarin gas attack in the Japanese city of Matsumoto. Seven people died and 150 were injured. Although Aum Shinrikyo were prime suspects, the authorities found it difficult to make any arrests.

What is Sarin Nerve Gas?

Sarin is a colorless, odorless liquid which is used as a chemical weapon. It was developed in Germany in 1938.

Sarin is estimated to be over 500 times more toxic than cyanide. Even at a low concentration, the gas can be fatal. A non-lethal dose can cause permanent neurological damage.

In 2013, the United Nations investigated reports that Sarin was used by both side in the Syrian civil war.

How was Sarin Nerve Gas Used in the Tokyo Subway?

The attack on the Tokyo subway happened during rush hour. The subway was crammed full of commuters. Traveling in five two-men groups, ten attackers put bottles of the deadly gas in plastic bags wrapped in newspaper, placing them near the exit of subway carriages. When the trains stopped, they stabbed the bags and ran out. Three subway lines were attacked at the same time.

Pure sarin is the most deadly. The sarin which was used here was impure. Even so, 12 people were killed in the gas attack. About 5500 people suffered from some kind of after effect.

The subway station which received greatest attack, Kasumigaseki, is beneath various government offices. It is thought that the targets were junior members of the Japanese civil service on their way to work.

What happened after the Aum Shinrikyo subway attack?

Police raided Aum Shinrikyo's headquarters and hundreds of members were arrested, including the cult's leader, Shoko Asahara. Five members were sentenced to death. Shoko Asahara was sentenced to death in February 2004.

Although it has lost its legal status and tax privileges as a religious organisation, Aum Shinrikyo continues to exist today. The group has changed its name from Aum to Aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In 2000, it issued an apology for the sarin gas attack.

The Japanese government closely watches the group, but has not banned it. The US government considers it a terrorist organization.

Haruki Murakami on the 1995 Japanese Subway Gas Attack

Popular Japanese author Haruki Murakami examined the Tokyo subway terrorist attack in his book Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche.

Translated into English by Alfred Birnbaum, Murakami's book consists of interviews with people who were on the subway, as well as some conversations with members of Aum Shinrikyo.


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