Sarin cult `doing nuclear research'

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The Independent Online

in Tokyo

The Aum Shin Rikyo cult appears to have been carrying out research into bacterial and nuclear weapons as well as manufacturing the sarin nerve gas released on Tokyo's subway two weeks ago, killing 11 people and injuring more than 5,000.

Police searched the mountain headquarters of the religious group, whose name means Supreme Truth, for a twelfth day yesterday. They removed incubators, electron microscopes and 300 biochemistry books, including recipes for botulinum, a virulent and deadly bacterium that will breed on food.

Peptone, a nutrient used in bacteria cultivation, was found last week in the compound in the remote village of Kamiku-Isshiki, near Mount Fuji.

A scientific document, describing a technique for enriching uranium using laser beams, also been confiscated from a cult member, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. Themember of its Science and Technology Agency was arrested on 23 March, three days after the subway attack, for driving through a red light in Shiga Prefecture, central Japan. Aum Shin Rikyo recruitedgraduates with the promise of laboratories. The whereabouts of senior cult members who fled Kamiku-Isshiki before the police raids, including the leader, Shoko Asahara, are unknown.

No arrests have been made for the sarin attack, which claimed its eleventh victim late on Saturday when a 53-year-old man died of kidney failure without emerging from a coma. Police have removed 650 drums and 2,050 bags containing the ingredients of sarin - enough to produce 6.5 tons of the gas, a single drop of which can kill.

National Police Agency (NPA) officers yesterday flew to Moscow, where Aum Shin Rikyo has a headquarters, to gather information on its overseas activities.

Tokyo police are still investigating the shooting of Takaji Kunimhesu, the NPA chief seriously injured on Thursday. The gunman's weapon, a .30 Colt pistol, firing specially sharpened hollow-nosed bullets, is difficult to get in Japan.