March 20, 1995 – Terrorist Sarin Attack in Tokyo

On this day in history, thirteen people were killed, and more than 5,500 others sickened when packages containing the poisonous gas sarin were released on five separate subway trains in Tokyo, Japan.

The attack was carried out by members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult. The name Aum Shinrikyo means “supreme truth.” As the BBC reported, the cult began in the 1980s as a spiritual group mixing Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, later working in elements of apocalyptic Christian prophesies. The group’s founder, Shoko Asahara, declared himself to be both Christ and the first “enlightened one” since Buddha. Per the BBC:

The group gradually became a paranoid doomsday cult, convinced the world was about to end in World War Three and that only they would survive. It also became increasingly violent, kidnapping, injuring, and killing opponents, and even using chemical and biological agents in other attacks.”

While nearly 200 members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult had been convicted in the nerve gas attack, including its leader, two suspects escaped capture. One of the two, a senior cult member, was apprehended finally in 2012. The second was arrested not long afterward, having been spotted at a 24 hour comic book cafe.

Aum founder Shoko Asahara (who referred to himself as the “Sacred Emperor of Japan”) and 12 of his followers were put on death row in Japan for their involvement in the attack.

At its peak, the group had tens of thousands of members worldwide. After the subway attack and crackdown, remaining members went underground or abroad. Again according to the BBC, the group may have up to 30,000 followers in Russia alone.

Workers cleaning a train car after members of AUM Shinrikyo released sarin in the Tokyo subway Kyodo/Landov

Workers cleaning a train car after members of AUM Shinrikyo released sarin in the Tokyo subway Kyodo/Landov

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