The remaining members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult have been executed in Japan, 23 years since they helped launch a sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system.
The six men were all hanged Thursday, the Japan Times reported. Seven other cult members, including leader Shoko Asahara, were executed earlier this month.
“The pain and anguish of the people who were killed and their families as well as of the survivors left with disabilities, was unimaginable,” Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa told reporters at a press conference.
Those executed Thursday included members that released the nerve agent in the March 1995 attack, which left 13 people dead and around 6,000 injured. The conspirators carried bags of liquid sarin onto the subway network, which they then pierced using umbrellas before fleeing with the help of waiting getaway drivers.
The agent was released on trains heading through Tokyo’s political district. Though some passengers noticed the leaking packages, travelers were quickly overcome by the toxins. Victims were left vomiting and coughing up blood while others were blinded and paralysed. The death toll could have been even higher but the plotters failed to properly puncture several of the bags.
The death sentences were postponed until their appeals had been exhausted last January. Japanese death row prisoners are not given prior notice of their executions, and usually only find out they are to die hours before they are killed.
The Aum Shinrikyo cult came to prominence in the 1980s and had tens of thousands of followers by the time it gained official religion status in 1989. Its followers believed an apocalyptic war was imminent, one only they would survive. All non-cult members would go to hell, members thought, unless they were killed by cult members.
Leader Asahara’s ideology mixed Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and yoga. He made followers take part in bizarre rituals such as drinking Asahara’s bathwater and wearing electrical caps followers believed synchronized their brain waves with his.
The cult plotted its attacks from a compound in the foothills of Mount Fuji. There, the organization stored conventional arms and made chemical weapons, including sarin and VX nerve agents. Aum Shinrikyo followers were also accused of several other murders and a 1994 sarin attack that killed eight and injured 600 people. Those executed Thursday were also involved in these incidents.
After the Tokyo subway operation, the group went underground. Followers continued to launch chemical attacks but were largely unsuccessful. Asahara was captured in May 1995 and 191 of his followers were charged with a variety of crimes.
Because membership of Aum Shinrikyo was made illegal after the Tokyo attacks, the religion split into the Aleph and Hikari no Wa groups. Both are still legal in Japan, but have been designated dangerous ideologies subject to surveillance.
Most followers live in Japan, but the religion has a strong following in Russia, where authorities have carried out numerous raids against suspected members. Aum Shinrikyo is designated a terrorist organisation in the U.S. and many other countries.North Korean media demands peace, warns of war