Shoko Asahara, leader of the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, has been executed in Japan by hanging. Asahara and his cult members were responsible for the 1995 attack of Japan’s subway system in which they placed punctured bags filled with sarin on trains running through Tokyo’s political district. All told, 13 people died as a result of the attack.
Ashahara founded Aum Shinrikyo in 1984 as a somewhat mangled collection of eastern belief systems, the Christian Book of Revelations, and the prophecies of Nostradamus, all tailored to fit Asahara’s own ideas of spirituality. Under this Syncretic belief system, Asahara proclaimed himself to be the Lamb of God and at other times, Christ. Asahara proclaimed that he would take the sins of the world upon himself to save his devoted followers in preparation for the coming third world war that he predicted the United States was about to start.
The cult had a long history of scrapes with the law. As trials of cult members began taking place, numerous crimes were confessed to by members, including the production of VX nerve gas, attempts to manufacture automatic weapons, kidnapping, chemical attacks, and the murder of people deemed to threaten the cult. Police also found laboratories to produce LSD, methamphetamine, a form of truth serum, and various other drugs after raiding the cult’s compound.
Undeterred, members of the cult continued carrying out various attacks against the people of Japan, which all failed, by attempting to release hydrogen cyanide in various train stations. All told, 19 cult members, including Asahara, were apprehended and tried for their crimes. Asahara and a dozen others received death sentences, while the remaining half dozen were sentenced to life in prison.
The BBC explained that it took such a long time for Asahara’s execution to take place because, in Japan, no one may be executed until every accused person and accomplice has been tried, had their appeals heard, and been sentenced. The final trial was concluded in January of this year.
Aum Shinrikyo still exists and has been designated as a terrorist organization by several nations. In Japan, it is now often known as Aleph or Hikari no Wa. While Japan has not designated the offshoots as terror organizations, they do consider them to be dangerous religions in need of surveillance.
Ashara, aged 63 at the time of his execution, leaves behind his wife, Tomoko Matsumoto, also known as Akari Matsumoto, and anywhere from to 12 to 15 children, although some estimates place the total much higher.