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Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway

The Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway refers to the 1995 incident when members of AUM Shinrikyo released sarin gas on several lines of the Tokyo Subway in an act of domestic terrorism. 12 people died and some 6000 were injured as a result of the attack.

Note: Japanese names in this article are given in the Japanese order, with the surname first and the personal name second.

Background

(Note: for detailed information on AUM, please see the following Wikipedia entry: AUM Shinrikyo)

Aum Shinrikyo was a Japanese millenarian cult (they have since renamed their organization as Aleph) centered on the charismatic leader Asahara Shoko, whose teachings combined elements of Buddhism and Hinduism as well as millenarian Christianity, including yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises. Central to the group's teachings is that the apocalypse is near. The name "AUM Shinrikyo" derives from the Buddhist mantra "om," followed by the Japanese word meaning "supreme truth".

The Japanese police have said that the nerve gas attack was the cult's way of hastening the apocalypse.

AUM attracted people from all walks of life. The group employed mind control techniques on its followers, including the use of drugs and of sleep- and food-deprivation. Members lived in communes, cut off relations with outsiders, including their families, and gave all their savings to the cult.

Only a select few cult members carried out the sarin attacks and the plan was kept secret from most of AUM's followers.

The main perpetrators

10 men were responsible for carrying out the attacks; five released the sarin, while the other five served as get-away drivers.

The teams were:

  • Hayashi Ikuo and Niimi Tomomitsu
  • Hirose Kenichi and Kitamura Koichi
  • Toyoda Toru and Takahashi Katsuya
  • Yokoyama Masato and Tonozaki Kiyotaka
  • Hayashi Yasuo and Sugimoto Shigeo

Hayashi Ikuo

Prior to joining AUM, Hayashi was a senior medical doctor with "an active 'front-line' track record" at the Japanese Ministry of Science and Tecnhology. The son of a doctor, Hayashi graduated from Keio University, one of Tokyo's top schools. He was a heart and artery specialist at Keio Hospital, which he left to become head of Circulatory Medicine at the National Sanitorium Hospital in Tokaimura, Ibaragi (north of Tokyo). In 1990 he resigned his job and left his family to join the cult, where he became one of Asahara's favourites and was appointed the cult's Minister of Healing.

Niimi was his get-away driver.

Hirose Kenichi

Hirose was 30 at the time of the attacks. Holder of a postgraduate degree in Physics from prestigious Waseda University, Hirose became an important member of the cult's Chemical Brigade in their Ministry of Science and Technology. Hirose was also involved in the cult's Automatic Light Weapon Development scheme.

After releasing the sarin, Hirose himself showed symptoms of sarin poisoning. He was able to inject himself with the antidote (atropine sulphate) and was rushed to Aum Shinrikyo Hospital in Nakano for treatment.

Kitamura Koichi was his get-away driver.

Toyoda Toru

Toyoda was 27 at the time of the attack. He studied applied physics at Tokyo University's Science Department and graduated with honours. He also holds a master's degree, and was about to begin doctoral studies when he joined AUM, where he belonged to the Chemical Brigade in their Ministry of Science and Technology.

Takahashi Katsuya was his get-away driver.

Yokoyama Masato

Yokoyama was 31 at the time of the attack. He was a graduate in applied physics from Tokai University's Engineering Department. He worked for an electronics firm for 3 years after graduation before leaving to join AUM, where he became Undersecretary at the cult's Ministry of Science and Technology. He was also involved in their Automatic Light Weapons Manufacturing scheme.

Tonozaki Kiyotaka, a high school graduate who joined the cult in 1987, was a member of the cult's Ministry of Construction. He was Yokoyama's get-away driver.

Hayashi Yasuo

Hayashi Yasuo was 37 years old at the time of the attacks, and was the oldest person at the cult's Ministry of Science and Technology. He studied artificial intelligence at Kogakuin University; after graduation he traveled to India where he studied yoga. He then became an AUM member, taking vows in 1998 and rising to the number 3 position in the cult's Ministry of Science and Technology.

Asahara had at one time suspected Hayashi Yasuo of being a spy. The extra packet of sarin he carried was part of "ritual character test" set up by Asahara to prove Hayashi's allegiance.

Hayashi went on the run after the attacks; he was arrested a year and 9 months later 1000 miles from Tokyo on Ishigaki Island.

Sugimoto Shigeo was his get-away driver.

What is sarin?

Sarin is a highly toxic and volatile nerve agent developed by Nazi scientists in Germany in the 1930s. There are liquid and gas forms.

Chemical weapons experts say that sarin gas is 500 times more toxic than cyanide gas. The gas can be produced by a trained chemist with publicly available chemicals.

The attack

Monday, 20 March, 1995 was for most a normal workday, though the following day was a national holiday. The attack came at the peak of the Monday morning rush hour on one of the world's busiest commuter transport systems.

The liquid sarin was contained in plastic bags which each team then wrapped in newspapers. Each perpetrator carried two packets of sarin totalling approximately 1 litre of sarin, except Hayashi Yasuo, who carried three bags. A single drop of sarin the size of the head of a pin can kill an adult (see sarin).

Carrying their packets of sarin and umbrellas with sharpened tips, the perpetrators boarded their appointed trains; at prearranged stations, each perpetrator dropped his package and punctured it several times with the sharpened tip of his umbrella before escaping to his accomplice's waiting get-away car.

The Tokyo subway system transports millions of passengers daily. During rush hour trains are frequently so crowded that it is impossible to move.

Chiyoda line

The Chiyoda line (千代田線)runs from Kita-senju (北千住) in northeast Tokyo to Yoyogi-uehara (代々木上原) in the west.

Two men were assigned to drop sarin packets on the Chiyoda line, Hayashi Ikuo and Niimi Tomomitsu. Niimi was the get-away driver.

Hayashi, wearing a surgical mask of the type commonly worn by Japanese during cold season, boarded the southwestbound 7:48am Chiyoda line train number A725K on the first car, and punctured his bag of sarin at Shin-ochanomizu Station (新御茶ノ水駅) in the central business district before making his escape.

Two people were killed and 231 suffered serious injuries. Hayashi was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Marunouchi line (Ogikubo-bound)

Two men, Hirose Kenichi and Kitamura Koichi were assigned to release sarin on the westbound Marunouchi line (丸ノ内線) destined for Ogikubo (荻久保).

Hirose boarded the 3rd car of Train A777, and released his sarin at Ochanomizu Station.

Despite two passengers being removed from the train at Nakano-sakaue Station, the train continued on to its destination, car 3 still soaked with liquid sarin. At Ogikubo, new passengers boarded the now-eastbound train, and they too were affected by sarin, until the train was finally taken out of service at Shin-koenji Station.

This attack resulted in 1 death and 358 serious injuries. Hirose was sentenced to death.

Marunouchi line (Ikebukuro-bound)

Two members were assigned to release sarin on the Ikebukuro (池袋)-bound Marunouchi line, Yokoyama Masato and Tonozaki Kiyotaka. Tonozaki was the get-away driver.

Yokoyama boarded the 7:39am B801 train at Shinjuku (新宿) on the 5th car. He released his sarin at Yotsuya (四谷).

Yokoyama only succeeded in puncturing one of his packets, and only made one hole, resulting in the sarin being released relatively slowly. The train reached its destination at 8:30am, and returned to Ikebukuro as the B901. At Ikebukuro the train was evacuated and searched, but the searchers failed to discover the sarin packets, and the train departed Ikebukuro at 8:32 as the Shinjuku-bound A801. At Hongo-san-chome, staff removed the sarin packets and mopped the floor, but the train continued to Shinjuku, and then returned again to Ikebukuro as the B901. The train was finally put out of service at Kokkai-gijidomae Station at 9:27, 1 hour and 40 minutes after the sarin was released.

Yokoyama was sentenced to death in 1999. Tonozaki was sentenced to life in prison. Both are appealing.

Hibiya line (departing Naka-meguro)

The team of Toyoda Toru and Takahashi Katsuya were assigned to release sarin on the northeastbound Hibiya line (日比谷線). Takahashi was the get-away driver.

Toyoda boarded the 1st car of the 7:59am B711T train bound for Tobu-dobutsukoen (東武動物公園駅) and punctured his sarin packet at Ebisu. 3 stops later passengers had begun to panic, and several were removed from the train at Kamiyacho and taken to hospital. Still, the train continued to Kasumigaseki, though the first car was empty. The train was evacuated and taken out of service at Kasumigaseki.

One person died and 532 were seriously injured.

Toyoda was sentenced to death.

Hibiya line (Naka-meguro-bound)

Hayashi Yasuo (no relation to Hayashi Ikuo) and Sugimoto Shigeo were assigned to the southwestbound Hibiya line departing Kita-senju for Naka-meguro.

Hayashi received, at his own insistence, three packets of sarin while everyone else got two. He boarded the 3rd car of the 7:43 A720S train from Kita-senju at Ueno Station (上野駅). He released his sarin two stops later, at Akihabara (秋葉原), making the most punctures of any of the perpetrators.

Passengers began to be affected immediately. At the next station, Kodenmacho (Kodemmacho) a passenger kicked the packet onto the platform; four people waiting at that station died as a result. A puddle of sarin, however, remained on the train floor as the train continued its route. at 8:10 a passenger pressed the emergency stop button, but as the train was in a tunnel at the time, it proceeded to Tsukiji Station (築地駅). When the doors opened at Tsukiji, several passengers collapsed onto the platform, and the train was immediately taken out of service.

This train made five stops after the gas was released; along the way, 8 people died. 275 more received serious injuries.

Hayashi was arrested after going on the run, and was sentenced to death (he has appealed). Sugimoto was sentenced to life in prison.

Aftermath

The injured

Those affected by the sarin experienced (short- and long-term symptoms) (incomplete list):

  • bleeding from the nose and mouth
  • coma
  • convulsions
  • difficulty breathing
  • disturbed sleep and nightmares
  • extreme sensitivity to light
  • flu-like symptoms
  • foaming at the mouth
  • high fevers
  • loss of consciousness
  • loss of memory
  • nausea and vomiting
  • paralysis
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • respiratory problems
  • seizures
  • uncontrollable trembling
  • vision problems, including temporary loss of vision and permanent vision problems

Witnesses have said that subway entrances resembled battlefields. In many cases, the injured simply lay on the ground, many unable to breathe. Incredibly, several of those affected by sarin went to work in spite of their symptoms. Most of these left and sought medical treatment as the symptoms worsened.

Several of those affected were exposed to sarin only by helping passengers from the trains (these include passengers on other trains, subway workers and health care workers).

Recent surveys of the victims (1998 and 2001) show that many are still suffering, particularly from post-traumatic stress disorder. In one survey, 20% of 837 respondents complained that they feel insecure whenever riding a train, while 10 percent answered that they try to avoid any gas-attack related news. Over 60 percent reported chronic eyestrain and said their vision has worsened1.

Emergency services

Emergency services including police, fire and ambulance servies were criticised for their handling of the attack and the injured, as were the media (some of whom, though present at subway entrances and filming the injured, hesitated when asked to transport victims to hospital) and the Subway Authority, which failed to halt several of the trains despite reports of passenger injury. Health services including hospitals and health staff were also criticised: one hospital refused to admit a victim for almost an hour, and many hospitals turned victims away.

Sarin poisoning was not well-known at the time, and many hospitals only received information on diagnosis and treatment because a professor at Shinshu University's school of medicine happened to see reports on television. Dr. Yanagisawa Nobuo had had experience with treating sarin poisoning after the Matsumoto incident; he recognized the symptoms, had information on diagnosis and treatment collected, and led a team who sent the information to hospitals throughout Tokyo via fax.

The sarin gas attack was the most serious terrorist attack in Japan's modern history. It caused massive disruption and widespread fear in a society that had been considered virtually free of crime.

Shortly after the attack, Aum lost its status as a religious organization, and its assets were seized. However, the government rejected a request from security officials to outlaw the sect altogether because the officials could not prove that that Aum posed an immediate danger to Japan. The cult continues to exist, seemingly peacefully, under the name Aleph.

Dozens of Aum members, including Asahara, are either standing trial or have already been convicted for crimes related to the attack.

Current activities

The cult reportedly still has about 2,100 members, and continues to recruit new members under the name Aleph (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet). The cult has renounced its violent past, but still continues to follow Asahara's spiritual teachings. The cult operates several businesses, though boycotts of known Aleph businesses have resulted in closures.

AUM remains on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist groups, but has not been linked to any terrorist acts since 1995.

Many Japanese municipal governments have refused to allow cult members to register as city residents; some businesses will not sell goods to known Aum followers; some landlords refuse to rent to members; and some cities have spent public money to persuade cult members to leave town. In 1999, the Japanese parliament gave its security services broad powers to monitor and curtail the activities of groups, like Aum, that have committed "indiscriminate mass murder" and whose leaders hold strong sway over their members.

References

1. "Survey: Subway sarin attack haunts more survivors" in Mainichi Online June 18, 2001. Available: http://www12.mainichi.co.jp/news/mdn/search-news/896300/aum-60-71.html

Detailed information on each subway line, including names of perpetrators, times of attack, train numbers and numbers of casualties, as well as biographical details on the perpetrators, were taken from Murakami Haruki's book on the attack called Underground.

Article text is from Wikipedia and licensed under terms of the GFDL. The original article can be found here.
 
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