Japan Executes Cult Leader, Six Members

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Born Chizuo Matsumoto in 1955 on the southwestern island of Kyushu, he changed his name in the 1980s, when the Aum cult was being developed. Asahara and his cult members were responsible for the 1995 attack of Japan's subway system in which they placed punctured bags filled with sarin on trains running through Tokyo's political district.

FILE - In this March 20, 1995, file photo, subway passengers affected by sarin nerve gas in the central Tokyo subway trains are carried into St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo.

The subway attack was the most notorious of the cult's crimes, which was blamed for 27 deaths in all.

In 2016, police in Russian Federation conducted a number of raids on suspected cult members in Moscow and St Petersburg.

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

He was among 13 people placed on death row in connection with the series of crimes perpetrated by the doomsday cult.

The horrifying scenes in the aftermath of the attack shocked a country where the crime rate is relatively low and people tend to take their personal safety for granted.

What is the Aum Shinrikyo cult?

Twelve other members of Aum Shinrikyo were sentenced to death for their roles in the 1995 attack. "But I did feel the world had become slightly brighter", said Atsushi Sakahara, a film director who was injured in the sarin attack at Tokyo's Roppongi station.

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She said the crime affected not only Japan but also sowed fear overseas.

The cult began as a spiritual group mixing Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, later including elements of apocalyptic Christian prophesies.

Asahara and five of the six executed were implicated in the subway attack.

Cult guru Shoko Asahara, left, of Aum Shinrikyo walks with Yoshihiro Inoue, then a close aid, in Tokyo. It is unclear whether they were also executed this week. The death sentence against him was finalized in 2006.

At a time when the global trend is toward abolishing capital punishment, Japan's death penalty system has sparked worldwide criticism, especially over the secrecy surrounding its executions, and prompted critics to push for its abolition.

They were criticized by rights group Amnesty International, which described the cult's acts as "despicable" but said "the death penalty is never the answer".

At a press conference Friday, former Aum Shinrikyo spokesman Fumihiro Joyu said he carried a "heavy shared responsibility" for the group's crimes.

He was also convicted of the murders of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, who had been helping parents seeking to free their children of the cult's control, and his wife and their 1-year-old son in November 1989.

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