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1995: Aum Shinrikyo Tokyo Subway Gas Attack

Terrorist Attack Profile: Chemical Terrorism, Religious Terrorism

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Overview:

In March 1995, Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo released sarin nerve gas on a Tokyo subway.

Tactic/Type: Bioterrorism

Actor: Aum Shinrikyo (now known as Aleph).

Where: Tokyo, Japan.

When: March, 1995.

The Story:

At 8:15 on the morning of March 20, 1995, three Tokyo subway lines were simultaneously permeated by a lethal gas called sarin. The gas had been placed on trains in liquid form, in bottles disguised as drink bottles, and in other similarly disguised packaging. Gas was released when the packages leaked. The effects of the attacks, which were launched from a number of points along the three lines, were felt immediately by the morning rush hour travelers:

As trains pulled into stations, passengers staggered out onto the platforms and collapsed. Emergency workers set up tents outside subway stations, and passengers were carried out on stretchers and lay on the ground with bubbles coming from their mouths. In some cases blood poured from their noses. (New York Times, March 20, 1995)

Nearly 5,000 people were treated for the attack, which injured hundreds and killed eight.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, which completely terrorized Tokyo residents and baffled Japanese investigators. Shortly after the attack, Japanese authorities began carrying out raids on Aum Shinrikyo offices and its training compound, under the pretense of investigating a kidnapping.

In fact, though, the Japanese government was aware the group may have been working to create poison gas. Two years earlier,in 1993, a building owned by Aun Shinrikyo was observed by local villagers surrounded by a white smoke-like substance. In 1994, according to news reports later, " residents in a village called Kamiku Isshiki, where the group has a regional headquarters, complained of eye and nose irritation, and several months later, by-products of sarin were found in the village, which is in Yamanashi Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo" (Sheryl Wudunn, New York Times, March 22, 1995)

The post-subway attack raids led authorities to several tons of chemicals, some of which could be used to create sarin, as well as gas masks and about $7 million in cash. One search also turned up 50 malnourished and dehydrated Aum Shinrikyo members, most of whom said they were fasting voluntarily and refused medical treatment. As investigations went on, increasing amounts and types of chemical ingredients were unearthed. At one site, officials found fifty drums containing phosphorus trichloride, which is a required ingredient in sarin gas. Ultimately, it was estimated that Aum Shinrikyo had enough chemical materials to kill 4.2 million people.

In the meantime, Aum Shinrikyo's leader had disappeared, leaving a trail of dire apocalyptic warnings of the end of the world (by 1997) behind. In May,1995, the authorities found him, meditating in a pink robe in a secret room between two floors in the Aum Shinrikyo headquarters at the foot of Mount Fuji, and arrested him.

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