| Other Names
A.I.C. Sogo Kenkyusho
A.I.C. Comprehensive Research Institute
A cult established in 1987 by Shoko Asahara, the
Aum aimed to take over Japan, then the world.
Approved as a religious entity in 1989 under Japanese
law, the group ran candidates in a Japanese parliamentary
election in 1990. Over time the cult began to
emphasize the imminence of the end of the world
and stated that the United States would initiate
Armageddon by starting World War III with Japan.
The Japanese Government revoked its recognition
of the Aum as a religious organization in October
1995, but in 1997 a government panel decided not
to invoke the Anti-Subversive Law against the
group, which would have outlawed the cult. In
2000, Fumihiro Joyu took control of the Aum following
his three-year jail sentence for perjury. Joyu
was previously the group's spokesman and Russia
Branch leader. Under Joyu's leadership the Aum
changed its name to Aleph and claims to have rejected
the violent and apocalyptic teachings of its founder.
The sect cultured the anthrax bacteria in large
drums of liquid in the basement of its eight-storey
headquarters in the Tokyo suburb of Kameido, says
Hiroshi Takahashi of Japan's National Institute
of Infectious Diseases. Then, in July 1993, Aum
members pumped the liquid to the roof and sprayed
it into the air for 24 hours. Read the whole
On 20 March 1995, Aum members simultaneously
released the chemical nerve agent sarin on several
Tokyo subway trains, killing 12 persons and injuring
up to 6,000. (Recent studies put the number of
persons who suffered actual physical injuries
closer to 1,300, with the rest suffering from
some form of psychological trauma.) The group
was responsible for other mysterious chemical
accidents in Japan in 1994. Its efforts to conduct
attacks using biological agents have been unsuccessful.
Japanese police arrested Asahara in May 1995,
and he remained on trial, facing 17 counts of
murder at the end of 2000. Since 1997 the cult
continued to recruit new members, engage in commercial
enterprise, and acquire property, although the
cult scaled back these activities significantly
in 2000 in response to public outcry. The cult
maintains an Internet homepage.
The Aum's current membership is estimated at 1,500
to 2,000 persons. At the time of the Tokyo subway
attack, the group claimed to have 9,000 members
in Japan and up to 40,000 worldwide.
Location/Area of Operation
The Aum's principal membership is located only
in Japan, but a residual branch comprising an
unknown number of followers has surfaced in Russia.