Former Aum Shinrikyo cult leader executed in Japan

Shoko Asahara former leader of secretive sect Aum Supreme Truth in 1990

Shoko Asahara former leader of secretive sect Aum Supreme Truth in 1990

The 63-year-old Shoko Asahara, whose real name was Chizuo Matsumoto, had been on death row more than a decade, reports Efe news.

The Tokyo subway attack, while an aberration, woke up Japan to the risk of urban terrorism.

Human rights agencies opposed to the death sentence have condemned the executions.

Six more cult members are still on death row, according to the Associated Press.

Asahara was among the seven executed on Friday.

Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa said the death sentences were deserved because the systematically plotted crimes were so heinous and prompted fears of terrorism both in Japan and overseas. The date of their executions is not known.

Atsushi Sakahara, who was injured in the attack, welcomed the executions.

"The attacks carried out by Aum were despicable and those responsible deserve to be punished".

There has been strong public support for the Aum convicts to be put to death. The cult believed that the people who died at the hands of their cult would be saved from going to hell at the world's end, which was supposed to happen soon. The illegal activities of his cult, Aum Shinrikyo, had become a big problem for Japan's law enforcement agencies in the 90s and the crackdown had already begun.

Tokyo residents who lived through the chaos and horror of nerve gas being released on the city's subway lines during rush hour on March 20, 1995, have expressed relief tinged with concern after the execution of Shoko Asahara on Friday morning. "Once he got angry, there was no way to stop it", a former classmate once said.

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He "lured young people, who felt a sense of emptiness in Japanese society", she said.

Criminal trials of Aum Shinrikyo members dragged through Japanese courts for more than 20 years. Joyu left Aleph in 2006.

"The police will take measures to be fully prepared", the top government spokesman said when asked by reporters about potential retaliation by people close to the cult.

In November 1989, lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto - who was working on a case against the cult - was murdered along with his family. The killing was eventually linked to the cult.

Nakagawa and key members produced sarin at a cult compound and sprayed it from a van, in what was later regarded as an experiment for the subsequent subway gassing. After the 1995 attack and arrests, the much-reduced cult went underground and eventually reimerged as a spinoff group called Adelph.

They carried plastic packets of the deadly nerve agent wrapped in newspaper, which they then punctured using umbrellas with sharpened tips. The cult had tens of thousands of followers at its peak. In that attack, the group sprayed the gas from a modified vehicle.

Friday's executions provided closure for family members of those killed, such as Kiyoe Iwata, whose daughter died in the subway attack. He was captured in a police raid two months after the attack. After all, the upper echelons of Aum Shinrikyo being held on death row had denied being directly involved in the terrorist attack. By 2006, he had exhausted the appeals process.

Why has the execution been so delayed?

The following are brief descriptions of three major acts of violence by the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult. The two groups have around 150 and 1,500 followers respectively, according to Japanese media.

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