This week, Japan finally brought one of its most wanted criminals to justice, a domestic terrorist who helped conduct the biggest terrorist attack in modern Japan.
After being on the lam for almost 20 years, Naoko Kikuchi was finally arrested for her part in the killing of more than a dozen people. Part of the notorious Aum Shinrikyo cult, Kikuchi’s arrest is the latest chapter in a long-running, deadly story.
Japan’s Most Dangerous Cult
Arguably the most dangerous religious cult in Japanese history, Aum Shinrikyo had humble beginnings as a yoga club, but quickly grew into one of the most menacing forces in the country.
Like almost every cult, Aum was a mishmash of appropriated religious ideas with a charismatic leader who claimed to be the next coming of Christ.
You know, the usual stuff.
Aum’s leader – who wouldn’t follow this guy?
The doctrine of the cult wasn’t always completely clear, but it was apparent that Aum Shinsikyo was absolutely bonkers. Initiation rituals reportedly involved mild torture, and members attempted to reach enlightenment by eating dog poo.
And, like most cults, Aum Shinsikyo became intensely paranoid. The cult kidnapped and attacked people who it thought was trying to undermine Aum.
The cult’s paranoia grew and grew until it culminated in its most infamous act: the attack on Tokyo subways.
Deadly Attacks On Tokyo
The main reason people know of Aum is because of its widespread attacks on the Tokyo subway system. The group took packs of sarin, a chemical weapon, and released them in subway stations across the city.
As the sarin gas was released into the subway system, commuters began to lose their vision and chaos quickly ensued. Ultimately, 5,000+ people were hospitalized, and 13 died.
Once it became clear that Aum was behind the attacks, the Japanese government brought down the hammer.
Police raided Aum and found more than they could have ever imagined: stockpiles of weapons, conventional and chemical; drugs, including LSD and meth; and prison cells with captives inside. Not exactly what you would expect to find in a religious organization.
While Aum was obviously an extremely dangerous force, for legal reasons, it couldn’t be completely dismantled and outlawed. But the Japanese government did the best it could to maim it in any way it could.
Most of the group’s assets were seized, and it was forced to declare bankruptcy. Aum’s leader and some of his disciples were tried for the subway attacks and eventually sentenced to death. The group changed its name “Aleph” to erase the stigma associated with the Aum name. And since the attacks, Aum has been under close surveillance by the Japanese government.
Even with all the might of the Japanese government, a few suspects in the subway attacks fell through the cracks. Though Kikuchi is the second person this year to be arrested for the 1995 attacks, there’s still one more Aum cultist at large.
Two down, one to go.
Once he is captured then maybe, after nearly twenty years, this chapter of Japanese history will come to a close.