Japanese police caught Katsuya Takahashi, the last remaining fugitive of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that carried out the 1995 sarin-gas attack on the Tokyo subway, ending a 17-year nationwide manhunt.
Takahashi, 54, was apprehended this morning and was being held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police headquarters, according to a police official in the capital, who declined to confirm additional details. Public broadcaster NHK earlier reported he was found in an Internet cafe in Tokyo’s Ota ward around 9:15 a.m. Police planned to formally arrest him on charges including murder, NHK said.
The capture ends the search for the last three suspects in a spree of violence by Aum members that culminated in the sarin attack on Tokyo’s subway, which killed 12 people and sickened thousands. The attack helped shatter postwar myths of a united, peaceful Japan and prompted tougher public security laws.
Takahashi’s fellow suspect Naoko Kikuchi, 40, was apprehended on the outskirts of Tokyo on June 3. Police arrested Makoto Hirata, 47, on Jan. 1.
The cult’s founder, Shoko Asahara, has been sentenced to death for at least 27 murders attributed to the group. The 57- year-old Asahara, born Chizuo Matsumoto, was the 12th Aum member sentenced to hang for the attacks and has exhausted all his appeals.
The cult had killed seven people in 1994 in a separate sarin attack in the city of Matsumoto. Originally developed in Germany in 1938 as a pesticide, sarin can cause symptoms in humans ranging from watery eyes to paralysis and death, depending on the amount of exposure.
In the Tokyo attack on March 20, 1995, five Aum members carried plastic bags filled with liquid sarin onto trains on the Hibiya, Marunouchi and Chiyoda subway lines, which were converging at Kasumigaseki station in the government district, and punctured them using the sharpened tips of umbrellas.
The attack “succeeded in causing panic and chaos in the station and throughout Tokyo,” according to a U.S. government report, which described “men, women and children in panic, coughing uncontrollably, vomiting and collapsing in heaps.”
More than 180 people were indicted for the attacks. Asahara was arrested in May 1995 and sentenced to death in February 2004 after an eight-year trial. Prosecutors at the time called him the worst criminal in the history of Japan. Japan’s supreme court rejected a final appeal against Asahara’s death sentence in 2006.
Aum members were also found guilty of the 1989 murder of a lawyer who represented victims of the cult, along with his wife and 1-year-old son, and of mailing a bomb to the office of Tokyo’s governor in 1995, injuring one person. Followers of the cult were also investigated for a near-fatal shooting of Japan’s top police official.
Asahara, who is legally blind, was born into a poor family of tatami-mat makers. He founded Aum in the mid-1980s and went on to draw thousands of followers to his sect, which prophesied an imminent Armageddon in which its followers would seize power and achieve salvation.
Aum made a public apology in 1999 for its violent acts and pledged to compensate victims. The group renamed itself Aleph the following year, renounced violence and said it was no longer under Asahara’s leadership. The organization split into two groups in 2007, according to Japan’s Justice Ministry, which estimated total membership in the cult at about 1,500 at the time.
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