This apocalyptic sect and its charismatic, blind leader are suspected of releasing Sarin gas in five Tokyo subway stations the morning of March 20, 1995, killing 12 people (one dying a year after the attack) and sickening more than 5,500 others. The religious cult is also suspected of a similar gas attack in June, 1994 in Matsumoto, a town north of Tokyo, that killed seven people and wounded 144. Furthermore they are suspected of a series of slayings and kidnappings of anti-cult activists and of preparing to overthrow the Japanese government -- all in the name of "good karma."
Asahara justified indiscriminate mass murder through the religious belief of "poa" -- a Tibetan Buddhist term for reincarnation to a higher existence. According to Shoko's twisted doomsday teachings, one can only save their soul through killing. Through the years Asahara developed a mumbo-jumbo collaged religious doctrine that resembled some sort of New Age-Hippie-Bhuddist-Mysticism. He even went on a pilgrimage to see Nostradamus expert Michel Chomarat at Lyon's municipal library to gain new insights into divination.
To the New Age cocktail brewing in his head, Asahara added the incentive of world domination through violence that he taught to his followers. According to Shoko a "poa" killing relieved victims from everyday life and the inevitable accumulation of bad karma. Thus what we call cold blooded murder was regarded "as a beautiful 'poa,' and wise people would see that both the killer and the person killed would benefit."
In 1994, seeing that his cult was entangled in all types of legal difficulties, Shoko ordered his disciples to mass produce deadly nerve gas and test its power in the streets of Matsumoto. It was the start of a doomsday plot to wipe out untold numbers of innocent people in his first volley in a war against the police and the Japanese government. The objective of the attack was to kill several judges staying at a courthouse dormitory that were due to rule against the sect in a property lawsuit. Seven people died and 144 were injured in the experiment. However, nothing happened to the judges.
Under Asahara's command, the doomsday cult built a sarin plant to produce 70 tons of the lethal Nazi-invented gas. On the side he also had plants manufacturing barbiturates and truth serum. Furthermore, he ordered the production of 1,000 automatic rifles and one million bullets. He was also looking into the possibility of procuring weapons-grade Uranium to build an atomic bomb with the help of Russian nuclear scientist hired by the cult.
At the peak of its influence in 1995, the Aum owned about 30 pieces of property throughout Japan, as well as a business empire that controlled restaurants, computers and other technology companies. Its net worth was estimated at $20 million to $1 billion. It was also said to have 10,000 followers in Japan and up to 40,000 in other countries, 30,000 of them in Russia.
Not the humble type, Asahara demanded that his followers treat him as a "living incarnation of God." He allowed them, at a steep price, to drink his bathing water as a way to cleanse their souls. He also sold strands of his hair and little vials of his blood -- at $8,100 a shot -- as part of an initiation ritual. Former cult members testified in court that they paid up to $2,400 for an intravenous injection of an unknown substance. Shoko also had a habit of kidnapping and executing anti-cult activist and lawyers representing former cult members. Prosecutors described how one rebel cult member, Kotaro Ochida, was strangled while Asahara looked on.
During the opening day of his trial the blind visionary's only words were: "I have nothing to say." Later he appeared to doze off and one of his lawyers had to wake him up. Throughout the trial Asahara has been repeatedly removed for bursting out incoherently and interrupting proceeding. Virtually all other top cult members -- including Shoko's wife -- have been arrested for crimes ranging from misdemeanors to helping to carry out the Tokyo subway murders. Until his arrest, the portly cultist predicted that the world would soon come to an end and only the Aum Supreme Truth would survive. Until then, they will all be in jail waiting for the apocalypse rather than actively participating in it.