Aum cultists admit making nerve gas



in Tokyo

Despite the denials of their leader, Shoko Asahara, members of the religious cult Aum Shinri Kyo have confessed to manufacturing sarin nerve gas used in two separate attacks, and to the abduction and murder of an elderly man.

Police quoted in the daily Yomiuri newspaper said that Aum's chief chemist, Masami Tsuchiya, has admitted making sarin on four occasions since last spring. He was acting under the orders of Hideo Murai, head of the cult's science section, who was stabbed to death by a Korean gangster last month.

Mr Murai told Mr Tsuchiya that the cult intended to "try out" the gas in Matsumoto in Nagano Prefecture, where seven people were killed by sarin last June, nine months before the attack that killed 12 and poisoned 5,500 others on the Tokyo subway on 20 March.

Mr Tsuchiya confirmed that the sarin was distributed among different cult members. He had disposed of his own stocks of the gas, but the investigation is unsure whether fugitive cult members retain supplies.

Another detained cultist, Dr Ikuo Hayashi, has reportedly described the murder of Kiyoshi Kariya, a 68-year-old legal official who went missing from his Tokyo home in February. Mr Kariya's sister was a former Aum follower who was trying to break ties with the cult after they demanded large "donations". He has not been heard of since 28 February. According to police, he was taken by the cult to its base in Kamiku Isshiki village, where Dr Hayashi administered a truth drug. Mr Kariya refused to disclose his sister's whereabouts, and Hayashi was later told that he had been sent to poa, a term used by the cult to describe the passage of the soul to another dimension after death.

Unnamed suspects were quoted as confirming that Mr Asahara, Aum Shinri Kyo's 40-year-old guru who was arrested in Kamiku Isshiki on Tuesday, had directly ordered the crimes, a charge he continues to deny.

"I did not commit it at all, please believe me," he told Makoto Endo, a prominent lawyer. "It is not true that my disciples made sarin and I never ordered them to do so." Mr Asahara told Mr Endo that he had experienced a revelation from the Buddha that the lawyer should act for him. Mr Endo refused. "I told him that I could not undertake it unless I'm convinced of a 150 per cent chance of innocence," he told reporters.

Twenty-seven of the 41 Aum members sought in connection with the murders are now in custody. The latest detainee is Yuzo Koyama, a former police officer who was arrested yesterday for destroying evidence of the cult's crimes. Mr Koyama was involved in an investigation in Aum in 1990. He became a follower himself and quit the police in 1993.