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Japanese Cult Member Sentenced to Death - 2002-06-26


A Japanese court has sentenced a senior member of a doomsday cult to death for his involvement in numerous murders, including a deadly gas attack in the Tokyo subway. The government says the Aum Shinrikyo cult remains dangerous and needs to be watched.

Tomomitsu Niimi was found guilty in the Tokyo District Court of murdering 26 people in seven separate attacks.

Niimi, who is appealing the verdict, played a key role in the Aum Shinrikyo cult. He has confessed to almost all the charges against him, but says he should not be held responsible since he was simply following the orders of the cult's guru, Shoko Asahara.

Among other offenses, he was convicted of organizing deadly sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system and in the central Japanese town of Matsumoto. The subway attack in 1995 killed 12 people. He also was found guilty of murdering a lawyer and his family after the man questioned the cult's activities.

Niimi, who is 38 years old, gained notoriety at the start of his trial by refusing to enter pleas and pledging eternal loyalty to the cult's mastermind.

Kiyoshi Yasutomi, a professor of criminal law at Keio University, says that Niimi's lack of remorse influenced the court to give him the death penalty.

Niimi is the eighth member of Aum sentenced to death for various crimes. The cult preached that the world was coming to end and only cult members would survive.

The group has since changed its name to Aleph and says it is now a benign religious organization.

Shoko Egawa is an author and Japan's best-known expert on the cult.

She says Aum is less dangerous now in terms of weapons possession and because police closely monitor it. However, she thinks it is still involved with mind control and thinks members are taught to unconditionally follow the group's leader.

Japan's Public Safety Agency warned the public in March that the group remains a threat.

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