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Russian Police Raids Target Japanese Doomsday Cult

FILE - Subway passengers affected by sarin gas spread in the central Tokyo subways by the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult are carried into St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo, March 20, 1995. The Japanese cult was popular in Russia in the 1990s but was outlawed.

Russian police detained a number of alleged members of the banned Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo after raiding more than 20 apartments in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russian media reported Tuesday.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, the country's main federal investigating authority, opened a criminal case against a group of cult followers that a committee spokesman said was established no later than 2011, according to Russia’s Tass news agency.

“The religious group’s activity was accompanied by violence against individuals and other harm to their health," said IC spokesman Vladimir Markin.

He gave no details of the violence to Tass but said the cult was raising money online.

Aum Shinrikyo was banned in Russia and other countries after it launched a 1995 sarin nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway that killed 13 people.

The cult’s leader, Shoko Asahara, has been on death row in Japan for more than a decade.

The raids followed the March detention and deportation from Montenegro of 58 foreigners associated with Aum Shinrikyo; 43 were Russian citizens.

“These raids, they were rather unexpected, actually, because nothing could be heard about this cult lately in Russia or Moscow,” professor Boris Falikov, of the Center of Religious Studies of the Russian State Humanitarian University, told VOA.

Falikov said the Japanese cult was popular in Russia in the 1990s but went underground after it was outlawed.

He attributed the raids to a Russian Orthodox Church-supported crackdown on fringe religious groups and cults that seek to attract new members.