Report: Last fugitive nabbed in '95 Japan gassing

Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese police Friday arrested the last fugitive suspected in a doomsday cult's deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo subways 17 years ago, media reports said.

Katsuya Takahashi, 54, a former member of Aum Shinrikyo cult, was arrested on suspicion of murder after being spotted at a comic book cafe in downtown Tokyo, Japan's public broadcaster NHK said. A cafe employee had recognized him and called police.

Takahashi admitted who he was when approached by the police at the cafe, NHK said.

TV footage showed a huge crowd outside the shop, trying to catch a glimpse of the last cult fugitive. NHK showed a thin, bespectacled Takahashi being pushed into a police car.

His appearance had changed over years — in particular, his trademark bushy eyebrows have become much thinner. So police had to wait while his fingerprints were verified. He was arrested after being taken to a nearby police station, then transferred to Tokyo police headquarters for interrogation, reports said.

Takahashi, who had been cult guru Shoko Asahara's bodyguard, was on Japan's most wanted list for his suspected role in the sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways, which killed 13 people and injured more than 6,000.

Takahashi's trail had been cold for years, but it heated up after another fugitive from the cult was arrested June 3.

Since then, thousands of officers were mobilized across the Tokyo area, handing out fresh photos of Takahashi and monitoring transportation hubs to keep him from escaping the capital.

A security camera last week showed Takahashi trying to withdraw money from a bank shortly after other fugitive was arrested. Police believe he had been hiding in the Tokyo area under a false name. Local media have reported that he was working at a construction company, where he was known as a quiet and anti-social person who always wore a surgical mask.

Aum Shinrikyo had amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with the government. Nearly 200 of its members have been convicted in the 1995 attack and dozens of other crimes. Thirteen, including Asahara, are on death row.

Makoto Hirata, charged in a 1995 cult-related kidnapping-murder as well as the subway attack, surrendered to police on New Year's Eve, stunning the nation. The second-to-last fugitive, Naoko Kikuchi, 40, was arrested on June 3. She had been accused of helping produce the sarin the group released on the subway.

The cult, split into two groups — each renamed Aleph and the Circle of Rainbow Light — once had 10,000 members in Japan and claimed another 30,000 in Russia. It still has hundreds of members. The cult is under police surveillance and its current leaders have publicly disavowed Asahara.

View Comments (14)