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Shoko Asahara, founder of Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinri Kyo, executed along with other members
The leader of the Japanese doomsday cult behind the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway has been executed along with other members.
Shoko Asahara, 63, was the mastermind behind the deadly attack that killed 13 people and injured 6,000 23 years ago.
The Aum Shinri Kyo cult began as a spiritual group mixing Hindu and Buddhist beliefs in the 1980s but they became obsessed with Armageddon.
The cult – which once had 10,000 members in Japan and boasted of another 30,000 in Russia – amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of a final showdown with the government.
Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death in 2004.
He was the first of 13 scheduled hangings on Friday, according to Kyodo news agency.
The Aum Shinri Kyo, or Aum Supreme Truth cult, staged a series of crimes including simultaneous sarin gas attacks on Tokyo subway trains during rush hour in March 1995.
Sarin, a nerve gas, was originally developed by the Nazis.
The images of bodies, many in business suits, sprawled across platforms stunned Japan and shattered its myth of public safety.
More than 20 years of trials involving Aum members, including Asahara, came to an end in January 2018, when the life sentence of Katsuya Takahashi for his part in the 1995 subway sarin gas attack was upheld by the Supreme Court. Thirteen cult members were then on death row.
Asahara, a pudgy, partially blind yoga instructor, was sentenced to hang in 2004 on 13 charges, including the subway gas attacks and a series of other crimes that killed more than a dozen more people.
He pleaded not guilty and never testified, but muttered and made incoherent remarks in court during the eight years of his trial. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2006.
Asahara, who founded Aum in 1987, said that the United States would attack Japan and turn it into a nuclear wasteland.
He also said he had travelled forward in time to 2006 and talked to people then about what World War Three had been like.
At its peak, the cult had at least 10,000 members in Japan and overseas, including graduates of some of Japan's most elite universities.
A number lived at a huge commune-like complex Asahara set up at the foot of Mount Fuji, where the group studied his teachings and practiced bizarre rituals but also built an arsenal of weapons - including sarin.
The cult also used sarin in 1994, releasing the gas in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto on a summer night in an attempt to kill three judges set to rule on the cult.
The attack, which failed, used a refrigerator truck to release the gas and a wind dispersed it in a residential neighbourhood, killing eight and injuring hundreds.
Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International, said: “Today’s executions are unprecedented in recent memory for Japan.
"The attacks carried out by Aum were despicable and those responsible deserve to be punished. However, the death penalty is never the answer.
“Justice demands accountability but also respect for everyone’s human rights. The death penalty can never deliver this as it is the ultimate denial of human rights.”