Japan executes sarin attack cult leader

Shoko Asahara responsible for a deadly 1995 Tokyo subway gas attack and other crimes

During the morning rush hour of March 20, 1995, members of the Asahara's Aum Shinrikyo cult punctured plastic bags to release sarin nerve gas inside subway cars, killing 13 people and sickening more than 6,000.

Sarin, a nerve gas, was originally developed by the Nazi regime in Germany. In 2004, he was convicted of having killed 27 people in 13 murders and other assaults and kidnappings spanning six years that culminated in the subway attack in his elaborate scheme to hasten Armageddon that he threatened.

The cult went underground after the 1995 attack, but did not disappear, eventually renaming itself Aleph or Hikari no Wa.

Executions are rare in Japan but surveys show most people support the death sentence.

Asahara, the 63-year-old self-styled religious leader was hanged shortly after dawn at the Tokyo Detention House, more than 23 years after he was arrested.

The former leader of the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) doomsday cult and several of its members were executed on Friday.

Their first major attack happened in June 1994 when the group released sarin gas outside an apartment building in Matsumoto, targeting judges who were overseeing a case against Aum Shinrikyo. But it gradually became a paranoid doomsday cult, convinced the world was about to end in a global war and that only they would survive, according to BBC News.

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Shizue Takahashi, a victims group representative and widow of a Toyko Metro employee who died in the sarin attack, told reporters she was "surprised" by the sudden execution.

Rights group Amnesty International said justice demanded accountability but also respect for civil rights. "The death penalty can never deliver this as it is the ultimate denial of human rights". "So, I have some regret", she said.

Some people wondered about the true reasons behind the sarin attack and other heinous crimes committed by Aum, with the executions permanently eliminating any chance of hearing accounts of them from Asahara and six of his closest followers.

The cult claimed to have 10,000 members in Japan and 30,000 in Russian Federation but has disbanded.

The trials against the cult members only wrapped up in January this year after the Supreme Court upheld the verdict against one member sentenced to life in prison.

The group had 11,400 members in Japan, including graduates from some of the country's elite universities, at the time of the subway attack, as well as members in Germany, Russia and the United States. "We have to be on guard for a while", said Twitter user Chie.

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