Intensive search for Japanese fugitives yields no clues At least 1 belongs to cult tied to nerve-gas attack

June 16, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TOKYO -- A face stares anxiously from posters on just about every public bulletin board in Japan these days.

The face -- angular, alarmed and acne-scarred -- is that of Yasuo Hayashi, a fugitive member of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult. Hayashi is one of seven fugitives the police have been seeking for more than a year in a vast effort to resolve the dozens of criminal cases in which the cult is accused.

The guru of the cult, Shoko Asahara, was captured a year ago and is on trial on charges of organizing the nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system, and on charges relating to other killings and kidnappings. The police seem to have wrapped up much of their investigation connected to Asahara and are going all out to find Hayashi and the six other fugitives.

An especially intensive monthlong campaign to find them has just ended, apparently without the discovery of any clues. So far this year, the police have handed out hundreds of thousands of posters and handbills bearing the faces of the fugitives -- sometimes showing them as they would appear with beards and glasses and even dressed as women.

The police decline to discuss the reason for the intensity of the manhunt. But the whispers in the government and in the Japanese news media are that the search is connected not just to the poison-gas attack but also to one of the most mysterious episodes of last year: the shooting of the national police chief, Takaji Kunimatsu, as he left his home to go to work.

Kunimatsu, who was shot by a gunman described as unusually tall -- as is Hayashi -- nearly died in the attack. Japan's police lost face by not being able to make any arrests in the case. Kunimatsu has recovered from his injuries and is back on the job, but the police remain mum about their suspicions.

"It's a very strange thing," mused a senior Japanese official. "Normally, in such an important case, there would be all kinds of information leaked out and floating around. But the police are keeping a very tight lid on this."

Whether Hayashi is being sought in connection with the shooting of the police chief, it is clear that he is wanted on charges of releasing the nerve gas sarin in a subway car in the Akihabara subway station in Tokyo in March 1995. Eight people died in and around that train at the time of the attack.

The overall death toll from the subway attack rose to 12 this month when a man died without having regained consciousness.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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