3 years since Aum leaders executed, society must remain intolerant of terrorism

Three years have passed since the Aum Supreme Truth cult’s top leaders were executed for their role in orchestrating a number of terrorist acts including the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. Hopefully, people will not forget the lessons learned from the attacks and will renew the pledge to realize a society that will not tolerate such indiscriminate terrorism.

Besides the sarin gas attack on the subway system, Aum members also murdered lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his family members and perpetrated a sarin gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, among other terrorist acts, that altogether killed 29 people and injured more than 6,500 others from 1989 to 1995.

Death sentences were finalized in court for 13 former senior members of Aum, including cult founder Chizuo Matsumoto, and each of them was executed in July 2018.

The terrorist acts continue to torment victims today. Many victims suffer from full-body numbness due to the highly noxious sarin gas or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Compensation for victims has been delayed. Last November, the Supreme Court finalized an order for Aleph, the main successor to Aum, to pay about ¥1 billion in compensation, but Aleph has not complied with the order. The victims and bereaved family members are aging. This attitude to avoid paying compensation is unacceptable.

Aleph, Hikari no Wa and Yamada-ra no Shudan, the three groups that are successors to Aum, reportedly have a total of about 1,650 members. These three groups are said to have inherited the doctrines taught by Matsumoto.

The groups describe themselves as yoga clubs and volunteer organizations, soliciting new members through social media and online bulletin boards, such as by encouraging youths among others to participate in their activities.

Eleven of the 13 Aum leaders who were executed in July 2018 had joined the cult in their teens or 20s. Behind their joining was a pervasive social unease felt during the end of the 20th century. At present, many young people also feel increasingly isolated due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The current situation is perhaps similar to what it was then.

The number of people who are unfamiliar with the Aum terrorist acts has grown. Schools and households should inform children about the terrorist acts to prevent the cult’s deeds from fading away.

To pass on the facts to future generations accurately, it is important to use resources such as court documents that recorded the details of the terrorist acts as well as the suffering of victims. As soon as possible, the government should develop a system in which such documents can be used to help fight terrorism and support victims.

The vulnerability of densely populated metropolitan centers was exposed by the sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway system, which targeted morning commuters by releasing the poisonous gas into the trains in the heart of the capital. In its wake, law enforcement authorities set up special units to prepare for nuclear, biological and chemical terrorist attacks.

The Tokyo Games will start later this month. Many event venues will be closed to spectators, but athletes and dignitaries from various nations are visiting Japan. In anticipation of incidents including cyber-attacks from overseas, all possible precautions must be taken.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 18, 2021.