Shoko Asahara

The Sarin Gas Attack of '95: Cult Members Executed

Seven members of the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult were hanged in Tokyo on Friday

Seven members of the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo were executed in Tokyo on Friday, July 6. The group put to death, which included cult leader Shoko Asahara, were behind the deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995 that killed 13 people and injured thousands. The attack stunned Japan at a time when it was considered one of the safest countries in the world. (Above: Shoko Asahara, the leader of the cult Aum Shinrokyo, in 1994.)

JUSTICE MINISTER The Asahi Shimbun/The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images JUSTICE MINISTER Japan's Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa arrives at the prime minister's residence on July 6. Kamikawa announced the deaths on Friday at a press conference, saying, "These crimes ... plunged people not only in Japan but in other countries as well into deadly fear and shook society to its core." The executions had been expected since January, when Japan's Supreme Court rejected the last appeal. Seven of the top cult leaders, including Shoko Asahara, were hanged; another six await execution. HAZ-MAT The Asahi Shimbun HAZ-MAT The attack was one of the most shocking in modern Japanese history. On March 20, 1995, members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult punctured bags of sarin gas on several lines of the Tokyo subway system during morning rush hour. A powerful nerve agent that's deadly in even small doses, it soon sickened everyone who came in contact with it, causing blindness and paralysis in some cases. Thousands were affected, and 13 people ultimately died. It was an astonishing act of terror coming only months after the catastrophic Kobe earthquake. (Above: Emergency teams respond in 1995.)

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WAITING ROOM Yamaguchi Haruyoshi/Sygma via Getty Images WAITING ROOM One commuter who'd been on a train described the terrifying scene to AFP: "Liquid was spread on the floor in the middle of the carriage, people were convulsing in their seats. One man was leaning against a pole, his shirt open, bodily fluids leaking out." (Above: Victims of the sarin gas attack await treatment in a Tokyo hospital in 1995.) FIRST RESPONDERS The Asahi Shimbun FIRST RESPONDERS Fire fighters evacuate the area around one of the gas attacks in Tokyo on March 20, 1995. GAS MASKS Kyodo News/Kyodo News via Getty Images GAS MASKS Members of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force suit up in protective gear on March 20, 1995. POLICE RAID The Asahi Shimbun POLICE RAID Children are brought out during a raid on an Aum Shinrikyo cult building on April 13, 1995. Police were criticized for not reacting sooner to the cult, which had already been linked to a smaller gas attack in 1994. Leader Shoko Asahara founded the cult in the mid-1980s, mixing elements of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Asahara also preached apocalyptic prophesies, which were the genesis of the subway attack: He believed the end of the world was coming, and the attack was a way to prepare. PRESS CONFERENCE The Asahi Shimbun/The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images PRESS CONFERENCE Shoko Asahara (center) at a press conference in October 25, 1990. He was captured in a police raid two months after the attack. At one point, the New York Times reports, the group had over 10,000 followers in Japan and 30,000 in Russia. POLICE INTERVIEW The Asahi Shimbun POLICE INTERVIEW Before he became a cult leader, Shoko Asahara worked as an acupuncture therapist, Chinese medicine retailer, and yoga instructor. FOLLOWERS Georges DeKeerle/Sygma via Getty Images FOLLOWERS Shoko Asahara speaks to followers in India before the attack. MEDITATION Georges DeKeerle/Sygma via Getty Images MEDITATION In India before the attack. RUSSIAN TRIP Wojtek Laski/Getty Images RUSSIAN TRIP The cult also had a large presence in Russia. Here, Shoko Asahara sits on a throne on a Moscow stage as he meets with followers on February 17, 1994. DOOMSDAY CULT The Asahi Shimbun/The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images DOOMSDAY CULT Shoko Asahara (center) and members of his cult when they formed their own political party on January 7, 1990. After the 1995 attack and arrests, the much-reduced cult went underground and eventually reimerged as a spinoff group called Adelph. That group is still the subject of surveillance and raids by the Japanese police.

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