Aum Shinrikyo

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Founded in 1984 by Shoko Asahara, Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) is a Japanese religious and political organization. While its initial position was originally one of meditation and non violence. Asahara decided that Aum should field candidates for the 1990 Japanese parliamentary elections. However, when none of its candidates were elected, Asahara accused the Japanese government of rigging the elections. Around this time that he started justifying murder on spiritual grounds, in a doctrine called poa, and he began to preach to his followers about an approaching nuclear apocalypse, a war between Japan and the U.S., and the group prepared to commit terrorist attacks to hasten that Apocalypse.

It is the only non-national group to have carried out acts of terrorism using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) on anything approaching a large scale, although some attacks were completely ineffective while others were far less effective than would have been expected from professional militaries. While its failure should not give false confidence, it is an indication that WMD are more difficult to use, even by a well-funded group with graduate-level sciences, than some media accounts suggest.

Biological attacks

In June 1993, the cult released anthrax spores from its Tokyo office building/laboratory, but as they unknowingly used a strain of Bacillus anthracis that was not pathogenic to humans, the attack was ineffective.

Chemical attacks

In June 1994, Aum used sarin gas in an attack in Matsumoto city that killed seven and injuring 144. The targets were three judges hearing a lawsuit over a dispute in which Aum Shinrikyo was the defendant. In March 1995, Aum cultists released sarin nerve gas in Tokyo's subway, killing twelve and injuring more than 5,000.

After the attack, Japanese police discovered that Aum Shinrikyo had accumulated enough chemicals to make enough sarin gas to kill millions of people, had it been efficiently dispersed. The subway attack, however, used an extremely inefficient delivery method.

Legal actions and status

Asahara and other leaders of the sect were arrested, tried and found guilty. After Asahara’s imprisonment, Fumihiro Joyu became the new head of the organization. Aum changed its name to Aleph in 2000, forbid the use of poa, apologized for its past acts of terrorism and paid reparation to the victims of the Tokyo sarin attack.[1]


  1. Aum Shinrikyo MIPT Terrorism knowledge base