Sect's poisons `could kill 4.2m'

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The Independent Online
CHEMICALS seized from the Japanese Aum Shinri Kyo sect were enough to kill 4.2 million people, according to police investigating the nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system last Monday.

Police officials told the Japanese daily paper Yomiuri Shimbun that 40 different toxic chemicals, enough to make up to 50 tons of sarin, the gas that killed 10 commuters and made 5,000 others ill, had been confiscated from the sect's commune in the mountain village of Kamiku Ishiki.

Police say they have proof linking the gas attacks in Tokyo to an earlier case in central Japan and to the chemicals seized from the sect. In the analysis by gas chromatography, the three samples all matched, proving that the same people made the deadly substance, police sources were reported as saying.

About 400 police with chemical warfare gear entered the mountain commune and took away barrels marked "phosphorus trichloride" and "poison". Phosphorus trichloride has been identified as a key ingredient of sarin. Police also found chemicals used to make nitroglycerin and dynamite, and the stimulant drug amphetamine.

Further evidence emerged yesterday that the threat of nerve gas was suspected by the authorities before Monday's attack. The day before, police received protective clothing and training in chemical weapon procedures. Police sources were quoted as speculating that the attack on Monday might have been a pre-emptive attack in advance of raids on the cult planned by police for later in the week. The three trains targeted by the gas were all due to converge near the national police headquarters.

The day before the attack, members of the cult handed out leaflets in Tokyo publicising books by its founder, Shoko Asahara, who is being sought by police. "The Kobe earthquake was just the prologue to a series of horrors and tragedies to hit Japan," they said. "What will hit Japan next?" A map of the Tokyo subway system was on the back of the leaflets. Ten days before the attack, leaflets entitled "Ultimatum Number 1" were also distributed. "Micro-organisms causing diseases are actually a chemical weapon," they declared. "There will be deaths. That is our pronouncement."

In Australia, police confirmed that they were investigating threats of gas attacks made last week against Japanese companies in Sydney, as well as a cache of chemicals found on a ranch previously owned by Aum Shinri Kyo. Eighteen months ago, two members of the cult were fined Aus $5000 (now £2,400) for carrying dangerous chemicals on a flight from Tokyo.

Police in Japan stepped up efforts to find Shoko Asahara. In a video message to followers, Mr Asahara, 40, again rejected allegations that the group was behind Monday's attacks, and accused US troops of spraying him and followers with nerve gas.