In Tokyo, anxiety and fear of attack by sect followers

April 15, 1995|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,Tokyo Bureau of The Sun

TOKYO -- "Alert: Sarin in Shinjuku tomorrow" screamed the headline of one of the Tokyo tabloids in 5-inch type.

It was not the only such warning and rumor that the Aum Shinrikyo religious sect, suspected in last month's sarin nerve agent attack on the Tokyo subways, would launch another attack today to fulfill an apocalyptic prophecy by its leader, Shoko Asahara.

Sect members were reported to have told family members to stay away from Shinjuku, the bustling area of Tokyo that houses the municipal government and the country's largest red light district.

It is also the place where Mr. Asahara's limousine was found after the subway attack.

In a book published last month, Mr. Asahara spoke of an earthquake striking Tokyo on April 15. The news media reported that he had also spoken of some unspecified "horrible" event affecting Shinjuku district.

The rumors of a new round of attacks are being taken seriously: Police vans displayed flashing signs urging people to take care; the casually dressed guards who usually lounge in front of government offices were officers dressed in bulletproof vests; shopping centers in Shinjuku announced they would be closed today; and hospitals stocked up on sarin antidotes.

"We take this seriously," said a senior member of the Shinjuku police. "There is more coming. Watch."

Junichi Nakata, 40, already had one narrow escape from disaster. He rode a bike to work the day 11 people died and 5,500 others were injured in the Tokyo subways. During weekends, he takes opera classes in Shinjuku -- but not this weekend.

"Three people on the train I usually ride on were seriously injured," Mr. Nakata said, carrying one of the newspapers with giant headlines. "It would be foolish not to be careful."

The increased security was accompanied by more police raids on Aum Shinrikyo offices. Some 30,000 police officers participated yesterday in searches of 130 Aum facilities.

At the central Aum facility in Kamikuishiki, near Mount Fuji, police removed 53 children, ages 2 to 14, over the screaming protests of parents and other sect members.

Many of the children had wires taped to their heads, said by cult members to help convey electronic messages from the leader, Mr. Asahara, and described by authorities as a method of brainwashing. Several of the children were said to be suffering from malnutrition.

Police also seized vast amounts of chemicals, along with parts for automatic weapons, adding to a huge stockpile that already is said to include documents relating to the production of biological weapons.

More than 100 sect members have been taken into custody within the past month and charged in connection with alleged kidnappings and medical malpractice.

But none of the charges has direct connection to the subway nerve agent attack.

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