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Japanese Doomsday Cult Leader Gets Death Penalty for 1995 Lethal Gas Bombing - 2004-02-27

The leader of a Japanese doomsday cult was sentenced to death Friday after he was found guilty of planning a series of crimes, including a lethal gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995. Relatives of the cult's victims expressed relief that the eight-year-long trial was finally over.

Japanese cult leader Shoko Asahara, who led the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, was convicted and sentenced to death Friday for ordering the sarin gas that killed 12 people and made thousands sick in Tokyo's subway. It was the nation's worst-ever domestic terrorism incident, and it stunned Japan - normally one of the safest nations in the world.

Asahara was also found guilty of a dozen other crimes that resulted in a total of 15 other deaths. Japanese death sentences are carried out by hanging.

Shizue Takahashi lost her husband in the Tokyo subway attack. She says she is relieved and glad that Asahara received the death penalty, because she never wanted him to re-enter society.

Hisae Kobayashi lost a son in a separate chemical attack the Aum group launched in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto in 1994. She says she has been waiting for this day, and she hopes the Aum group will disappear as quickly as possible.

Most of Aum's former leaders are in prison and are appealing death sentences, as Asahara is also expected to do. But the cult has renamed itself Aleph, and it still exists.

Members say it is now a harmless religious organization, but the public remains concerned about the group and its motives. Police suspect that despite being blind, ill and behind bars, Asahara continues to wield influence over the group and its teachings.

Japanese police watch the group closely, and recently searched its offices. There were worries the members would launch another attack around the time of the Asahara verdict, but no evidence of that has been found.

The precise purpose of the Aum sect's actions has never been fully understood. Asahara predicted the world would soon end, and commanded his followers to take up arms and be ready for the apocalypse. The sect was obsessed with stockpiling conventional and chemical weapons, supposedly to protect itself.