Aum Shinrikyo (オウム真理教) (or Aum Supreme Truth) is the name of a terrorist cult operating in Japan. The cult is now known by the name Aleph. The group is most famous for their 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system.

The group is also known as A.I.C. Sogo Kenkyusho or A.I.C. Comprehensive Research Institute.


The cult was established in 1987 by Shoko Asahara. Aum is a sanskrit word meaning "powers of destruction and creation in the universe," and Shinrikyo means "teaching of the supreme truth".

Approved as a religious entity in 1989 under Japanese law, the group ran candidates in a Japanese parliamentary election in 1989 through Shinrito, the political arm of the group. The group did very poorly in the elections.

Following the political failure, Asahara began to emphasize the imminence of the end of the world and stated that the United States would initiate Armageddon by starting World War III with Japan. Some time between 1990 and 1993 Asahara ordered the production of chemical weapons, including sarin. Cult member and organic chemist Tsuchiya Masami directed the operation. In 1994 the group announced the formation of an independent Aum government. Following the Tokyo subway attack (see below), the Japanese Government arrest Asahara and 200 cult members.

The group had its recognition as a religious organization revoked in October 1995, but in 1997 a government panel decided not to invoke the Anti-Subversive Law against the group, which would have outlawed the cult. In 2000, Fumihiro Joyu took control of Aum following his three-year jail sentence for perjury. Joyu was previously the group's spokesman and Russia Branch leader. Under Joyu's leadership Aum changed its name to Aleph and claims to have rejected the violent and apocalyptic teachings of its founder.

The cult continues to recruit new members, engages in commercial enterprise, and acquire property, although the cult scaled back these activities significantly in 2000 in response to public outcry. The cult maintains an Internet homepage.


Asahara preached a mixture of pseudoscience, Nostradamus, esoteric Buddhism and millennarian Christianity, claiming that modern Japanese society was corrupt, nuclear holocaust was imminent and that Aum would save and/or recreate the world through magic powers and science.

An important part of Aum's doctrine was the controversial Buddhist idea of poa, that under certain circumstances murder could spiritually elevate both the victim and the killer. This belief was a key rationalization for the numerous murders committed by Aum members, of people both inside and outside of the organization.


The first murder that Shoko Asahara committed was against a 25-year old man. After he insulted Asahara, Asahara ordered him dunked in near-freezing water. The man's friend, Taguchi Shuji, criticized Asahara for what he did. Taguchi was summoned to a meeting in February 1989. Asahara decided to kill Taguchi. Murai and a few others blindfolded Shuji, while a rope was tied around his neck. Shuji's neck broke and he died. Nobody was charged for the crime.

On October 31, 1989, a man named Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a lawyer working against Aum Shinrikyo, tested Asahara Shoko's blood, and found no sign of special power in it. The original plan for Aum Members was to kidnap Sakamoto from the subway and inject him with a drug. On November 3, 1989, several Aum Shinrikyo members drove to Yokohama. They included Hideo Murai, the chief scientist, Doctor Nakagawa, who had a pouch of fourteen syringes and potassium chloride, and Satoro Hashimoto, a martial arts master. However, they found no sign of him at the train station. Since it was a holiday, Asahara told the men to kill him and his family at his apartment. At 3 A.M., the men broke into the apartment through an unlocked door. They found 14-month old Tatsuhiko Sakamoto crying. The boy, son of Tsutsumi Sakamoto was injected with a deadly drug. The men then surprised Tsutsumi and wife Satoko in bed. They first hit Tsutsumi on the head with a hammer. They then bash the screaming Satoko Sakamoto into submission with the hammer. The two were injected with drugs, but Tsutsumi was still fighting, so they strangled him. After the family was dead, the bodies were burned, as were the sheets. The victims' teeth were smashed to pieces.

On March 20, 1995, Aum members simultaneously released the nerve agent sarin on several Tokyo subway trains, particularly in Kasumigaseki Station, killing twelve persons and injuring up to 6,000. Recent studies put the number of persons who suffered actual physical injuries closer to 1,300, with the rest suffering from some form of psychological trauma.

The group was responsible for other chemical incidents in Japan in 1994 - once in Kita-Fukashi in June, killing seven, and again by accident in July. Its efforts to develop biological agents were unsuccessful.

Japanese police arrested Asahara in May 1995, and he remained on trial, facing 27 murder counts in 13 separate indictments. His trial began in 2000, final arguments by the prosecution were made in April, 2003 and by the defence in Novenber, 2003. A result is expected in 2004.

Other charges against Asahara include the murder of Kiyoshi Kariya, a notary.

Stories from survivors of the Tokyo subway sarin gas attack and former members of the cult are collected in the book The Underground by renowned Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami.


Aum's current membership is estimated at 1,500 to 2,000 persons. At the time of the Tokyo subway attack, the group claimed to have 9,000 members in Japan and up to 40,000 worldwide.

Location/Area of Operation

Aum's principal membership is located only in Japan, but a residual branch comprising an unknown number of followers has surfaced in Russia.

External Aid

None. [1]

See also: Terrorist organisations in Asia

1. Terrorist Group Profiles, Dudley Knox Library, Naval Postgraduate School

Aum and Unification Church

Unification Church is Korean cult founded and led by Sun Myung Moon who, claiming that Jesus failed, has declared himself the title "Messiah." Co-founder of Aum Hayakawa Kiyohide was sent by Unification Church. He brought methods of mind control and millions of dollars and at least 12 Unification Church members to Aum.

Aum's Russia and North Korea connection was believed to be built by Unification Church through Hayakawa.

External Links