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Last modified: 2007-05-12 by phil nelson
Keywords: aleph | political party | terrorist organization | aum shinrikyo |
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by Tomislav Todorovic and Mladen Mijatov from an image by Marcus Schmöger
This is an illegal group and also has its own goals and structure, plus carried out direct attacks against the Japanese government.
Aum Shinrikyo, now known as Aleph, is a Japanese religious group founded by Shoko Asahara. The group gained international notoriety in 1995, when several of its followers carried out a Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subways. The organization was founded in 1984, starting off as a Yoga and meditation class known as Aum-no-kai ("Aum club") and steadily grew in the following years. It gained the official status as a religious organization in 1989. It attracted such a considerable number of young graduates from Japan's elite universities that it was dubbed a "religion for the elite".
The cult started attracting controversy in the late 1980s with accusations of deception of recruits, and of holding cult members against their will and forcing members to donate money. A murder of a cult member who tried to leave is now known to have taken place in February 1989. At the end of 1993 the cult started secretly manufacturing the nerve agent sarin and later VX gas. They also attempted to manufacture 1000 automatic rifles but only managed to make one. At the cult's headquarters in Kamikuishiki on the foot of Mount Fuji, the Japanese police found explosives, chemical weapons and biological warfare agents, such as anthrax and Ebola cultures, and a Russian MIL Mi-17 military helicopter. There were stockpiles of chemicals which could be used for producing enough sarin to kill four million people. Police also found laboratories to manufacture drugs such as LSD, methamphetamines, and a crude form of truth serum, a safe containing millions of dollars worth in cash and gold, and cells, many still containing prisoners.
During the raids, Aum issued statements claiming that the chemicals were for fertilizers. On 10 October 1995, Aum Shinrikyo was ordered to be stripped of its official status as a "religious legal entity" and was declared bankrupt in early 1996. However the group continues to operate under the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, funded by a successful computer business and donations, and under strict surveillance. Attempts to ban the group altogether under the 1952 Subversive Activities Prevention Law were rejected by the Public Security Examination Commission in January 1997.
In 2000 the organization changed its name to "Aleph" (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), changing its logo as well. A June 2005 report by the National Police Agency showed that Aleph has approximately 1650 members, of which 650 live communally in cult facilities. The group operates 26 facilities in 17 prefectures, as well as about 120 residential facilities. Aum Shinrikyo has had several overseas branches: a Sri Lanka branch, small branches in New York City, United States and Bonn. The group also had several centers in Moscow, Russia.
The EU has designated Aum Shinrikyo as a terrorist organization. On December 11, 2002, The Canadian government added Aum to its list of banned terrorist groups. The United States also maintains Aum on its list of foreign terrorist groups.
Esteban Rivera, 24 March 2007
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