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Last fugitive arrested over deadly Tokyo metro gas attack

A doomsday cult released sarin gas into the Tokyo subway system in 1995, killing 13 people and injured more than 6,000.

Katsuya Takahashi is driven to Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department after being arrested
Katsuya Takahashi is driven to Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department after being arrested
Image: AP Photo/Kyodo News

JAPANESE POLICE TODAY arrested the last fugitive suspected in a doomsday cult’s deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo subways 17 years ago: the cult leader’s former bodyguard, who was finally tracked down at a comic-book cafe.

Katsuya Takahashi, 54, a former member of Aum Shinrikyo cult, was arrested on suspicion of murder, a Tokyo police spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules. An employee at the downtown Tokyo cafe had recognised him and called police, she said.

Takahashi admitted who he was when approached by the police at the cafe.

Arrest earlier this month

His trail had been cold for years, but it heated up after another fugitive from the cult was arrested June 3. Thousands of officers had been hunting for him across the capital, handing out fresh photos of the suspect and monitoring transportation hubs to keep him from escaping.

Takahashi, who had been cult guru Shoko Asahara’s bodyguard, was on Japan’s most wanted list for his suspected role in the sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways, which killed 13 people and injured more than 6,000. He allegedly helped one of the members who released sarin on one of the subway lines run away from the scene. He is also suspected in a 1995 cult-related kidnapping-murder, as well as a mail bomb that injured a Tokyo city employee.

TV footage showed a huge crowd outside the cafe, trying to catch a glimpse of the last cult fugitive. Public broadcaster NHK showed a thin, bespectacled Takahashi being pushed into a police car.

His appearance had changed over years — in particular, his trademark bushy eyebrows have become much thinner. So police had to wait while his fingerprints were verified. He was arrested after being taken to a nearby police station, then transferred to Tokyo police headquarters for interrogation, police said.

Living under false name

Police believe he had been hiding in the Tokyo area under a false name. A security camera last week showed him trying to withdraw money from a bank shortly after the other fugitive was arrested. Local media have reported that he was working at a construction company, where he was known as a quiet and anti-social person who always wore a surgical mask.

Aum Shinrikyo had amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with the government. Nearly 200 of its members have been convicted in the 1995 attack and dozens of other crimes. Thirteen, including Asahara, are on death row.

Makoto Hirata, charged in the 1995 kidnapping-murder as well as the subway attack, surrendered to police on New Year’s Eve, stunning the nation. The fugitive arrested June 3, Naoko Kikuchi, is accused of helping to produce the sarin the group released on the subway.

The cult, split into two groups — each renamed Aleph and the Circle of Rainbow Light — once had 10,000 members in Japan and claimed another 30,000 in Russia. It still has hundreds of members. The cult is under police surveillance and its current leaders have publicly disavowed Asahara.

Read: Japanese dock washes up in Oregon a year after tsunami

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Associated Press

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