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Tokyo Gas Attack  Mastermind Faces Death Sentence


In one of the most high profile criminal trials in Japanese history, prosecutors have requested the death sentence for the leader the Aum Shinrikyo cult. Final arguments were heard in Tokyo Thursday where doomsday guru Shoko Asahara has been on trial for seven years for masterminding the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system.

Aum Shinrikyo guru Shoko Asahara could face death by hanging if convicted of the deaths of 12 people in nerve gas attack on Tokyo's subways in 1995.

After seven years of trial, prosecutors summed up their case Thursday by reading 300 pages of closing arguments.

The attorneys linked Mr. Asahara to a total of 26 murders in the sarin attack and other incidents, as well as assaults and kidnappings. Investigators argue the subway gas attack, which sickened 5,000 people, was an attempt to overthrow the government. Aum publications spoke of making the nearly blind cult leader the "King of Japan."

Prosecutors called the crimes "terrorist acts of indiscriminate mass murder" not worthy of leniency and demanded the death penalty.

Their call for the death of Mr. Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, is being applauded by some of the families of those killed.

Shizue Takahashi lost her husband in the March 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway system. She says she attended every session of the trial hoping to hear the cult guru explain why so many innocent people were targeted.

Ms. Takahashi says she absolutely agrees that capital punishment is warranted.

The 48-year-old defendant did not address the charges against him. He stayed silent throughout his trial, with the exception of occasional incoherent ranting. He fired his original lawyers and has refused to cooperate with his current attorneys.

Final arguments from the defense are set for the end of October and a verdict could take six more months. If convicted, Mr. Asahara could lodge an appeal - a process that could take several more years.

Nine of Aum's senior figures have already been sentenced to death for their roles in the subway attack and other crimes.

Aum has renamed itself Aleph, continues to recruit members and is the target of special police surveillance. At its peak it was believed to have had 15,000 followers.

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