Fugitive surrenders 17 years after Tokyo gas attack

Member of doomsday cult behind Japan's subway atrocity turns himself in at police station

A member of the doomsday cult behind a deadly Tokyo subway gas attack and other crimes has turned himself in to police after 17 years on the run.

Makoto Hirata, a member of Aum Shinrikyo, conspired with several other members in kidnapping a notary official in 1995 and causing his death, said a Tokyo metropolitan police official. The victim, Kiyoshi Kariya, then 68, was the brother of a follower trying to quit the group. Hirata, 46, who had been on the run since the summer of 1995, turned himself in at a Tokyo police station and was detained early yesterday morning.

The cult also released sarin nerve gas in Tokyo's subway system in 1995, killing 13 people and injuring more than 6,000 in Japan's deadliest act of domestic terrorism. It had amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with the government.

Police say Hirata and other cult members kidnapped Kariya in a Tokyo street and confined him at the group's tightly guarded commune at the foot of Mount Fuji. They allegedly used anaesthetics on Kariya to get him to talk about his sister, who escaped from the group after being pressed to donate her land. Kariya died from a drug overdose, police said.

According to court testimony, cult members burned Kariya's body in an incinerator inside the commune and disposed of the ashes in a nearby lake to destroy the evidence. Public broadcaster NHK said Hirata told police he wanted to "put the past behind him". He was carrying a travel pack containing minimal daily necessities and had Japanese currency worth several hundred dollars in his wallet.

Hirata told police he only drove Kariya to the cult compound and denied other allegations. He was one of the last three wanted cult members. The two others are still on the run. He is also a suspect in the near-fatal shooting of Japan's then top police chief, but the high-profile case was closed last year after the statute of limitations expired.

Nearly 200 members of the cult have been convicted over the gas attack and dozens of other crimes. Thirteen, including cult guru Shoko Asahara, are on death row. No one has been executed. Hirata's arrest could help fill in missing pieces of the cult investigation.

"As a member of the victim's family, I just want to know the truth," Kariya's son, Minoru, said in a televised interview. "I hope the new witness will help bring new revelations."