The former leader of Aum Shinrikyo, a doomsday cult that killed 13 people in a 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, has been executed, Japanese media report. He is the first of 13 people set to be hanged for the attack.
Shoko Asahara, 63, was executed on Friday, Mainichi Shimbun reported, citing government sources.
Asahara, who was born Chizuo Matsumoto, was sentenced to death for the March 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway, which killed 13 and injured more than 6,200 people.
Asahara was executed along with several former followers, according to Japan Today. He was on a death row since 2004 after the court found him guilty of 13 charges, including orchestrating the 1995 attack and the June 1994 sarin attack in Nagano Prefecture, which claimed eight lives.
The former guru was also convicted of a series of murders, including the 1989 killing of the one-year-old son of lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto and his wife, who were helping parents to free their children from the cult’s clutches.
The sarin attack on March 20, 1995, shocked Japan, with 191 former Aum members being indicted on various criminal charges in the following years. The executions of Asahara and the 12 other people sentenced to death along with him have been delayed for years due to the peculiarities of the Japanese judicial system. According to Japanese law, inmates cannot be executed until all trials for their accomplices come to an end. The last trial wrapped up in January this year after the Supreme Court rejected a former cult member’s appeal.
Asahara justified the massacre by claiming that by killing people he was saving souls, relieving them of the inevitable accumulation of more bad karma. According to the cult’s bizarre teachings, both the killer and the victim benefited from murder. Asahara claimed to be a reincarnation of Shiva and demanded his followers put him in charge of their lives.
While on trial, the former cult leader remained tight-lipped, refusing to meet anyone besides his lawyers and mumbling in response to questions. However, he was deemed sane enough to stand trial.
At the peak of its popularity, in the late 1980s, his sect boasted there were between 3,000 and 4,000 members, although the number of active followers amounted to several hundred.
Aum has been officially recognized as a terrorist organization by several countries, including Russia, the US and Canada.