By Tomoko A. Hosaka
The Associated Press
TOKYO (AP) — Tokyo subway workers observed a moment of silence Saturday to mark the 15th anniversary of a nerve gas attack by a religious cult, Japan’s deadliest act of domestic terrorism.
About 20 employees at Kasumigaseki station in Tokyo’s government district bowed their heads in silent prayer at 8 a.m., when members of the cult released sarin nerve gas in rush-hour trains on March 20, 1995. The five coordinated attacks killed 13 people and sickened 6,300 others.
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama joined victims and families in paying his respects, bowing deeply in front of an flower-laden alter.
Transport Minister Seiji Maehara said he would institute more anti-terrorism measures to ensure a secure public transportation system. Tokyo’s subway is the world’s busiest, carrying some 8.5 million riders a day.
“I pledge to work hard, without letting the memory (of the sarin gas attack) fade,” Maehara said.
Before the attack, the Aum Shinrikyo cult had amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with the government. More than a dozen death sentences have been imposed on its members, but no one has been executed.
Former Aum guru Shoko Asahara is on death row for 27 killings, including those in the subway attack. He was also convicted of plotting more than a dozen other crimes, including a 1994 gas attack in central Japan that killed seven and the kidnapping and murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family.
Among family members attending Saturday’s remembrance was Shizue Takahashi, 63, who lost her husband in the attacks and helped spearhead efforts to secure government compensation for victims.
After helping pull victims from a train, subway worker Kazumasa Takahashi took a broom and a dustpan and started cleaning up a puddle of clear liquid — later identified as sarin. The liquid had spilled from a plastic bag by the door of one of the cars. He was dead minutes later.
“When I think of all that I’ve been through, these past 15 years have felt very long,” his wife told reporters.
Aum, now renamed Aleph, once had 10,000 members in Japan and another 30,000 in Russia. It remains under close police surveillance.
Authorities say its membership has shrunk to about 1,650 in Japan and 300 in Russia. The group split into factions in recent years, including one that remains close to Asahara’s family.