Admission fees, seminar fees, selling of publications. Multiple enterprises and businesses.
Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) is a Japanese cult founded in 1984. The group's original name was Aum Shinsen no Kai (Group of Gods/Supreme Beings), but it was changed to Aum Shinrikyo in 1989. Its leader, Shoko Asahara, was a charismatic and partially blind guru whose world-view evolved from an advocacy of esoteric mysticism to apocalyptic nihilism, which encouraged his followers to confront the Japanese establishment. His teachings involved a unique amalgam of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and New Age thought, with some elements also taken from Nostradamus' prophecies and even science fiction. Asahara claimed to have many supernatural powers and believed that he had attained enlightenment.
The cult started as a small group composed of Asahara and fifteen of his followers, and they focused on esoteric yoga. Within very little time however, Aum's numbers swelled, thanks to the charismatic leader's frequent lecture tours and travels abroad. Aum Shinrikyo actively recruited among professionals and students from Japan's top universities. The cult also enlisted over 300 scientists with degrees in biochemistry, medicine, genetic engineering and biology. At its peak, Aum had 10,000 members in Japan, with 35,000 in Russia. Aum also had offices in the U.S., Germany and Taiwan.
Aum Shinrikyo amassed a considerable amount of wealth over the years. Japanese police concluded the group owned over $1 billion in assets, the majority of which was obtained through membership fees, the sale of its literature, donations, tests, advanced courses and numerous businesses the organization ran. From here Aum moved onto the chemical, import-export, software developing and mining sectors, to name a few.
Initially, Asahara preached meditation, introspection and non violence. In the late 1980s, he decided that Aum should run for office in the 1990 Japanese parliamentary elections. Despite Aum's campaigning, none of its members were elected. Because of this, Asahara was enraged and accused the Japanese government of rigging the elections. It was around this time that he started justifying murder on spiritual grounds. These ideas coalesced into a proper doctrine called 'poa' deeply influenced by Tantra Vajiriyana.
Asahara became increasingly paranoid and started to tell his followers about an approaching nuclear apocalypse, a war between Japan and the U.S. The cult began to assemble its own militia and reorganized its leadership structure as a shadow government. This cabinet had ministries in charge of different areas such as Science and Technology, Intelligence, and Construction. Asahara reserved for himself the title of Supreme Leader. The group was now fully poised to commit violent terrorist attacks in order to hasten the coming Apocalypse.
In June 1993, the cult attempted to release anthrax spores from its mid-rise Tokyo office building/laboratory. The attack failed as the group unknowingly using a non-lethal vaccine strain of Anthrax, and was thus ineffective.
In June 1994, Aum conducted a sarin gas attack in Matsumoto city, killing seven people and injuring 144 others. The targets were three judges sitting on a panel hearing a lawsuit over a real-estate dispute in which Aum Shinrikyo was the defendant. None of the judges died in the attack. Unfortunately, the authorities did not identify the terrorist nature of the action until after Aum's most infamous deed; the Tokyo subway attack.
In March 1995, Aum assaulted Tokyo's subway, in an attempt to stop a police investigation into Aum's activities. The cultists released sarin nerve gas, killing twelve people and injuring over 5,000 others. The attack was conducted at peak Monday morning rush hour. After the attack, Japanese police discovered that Aum Shinrikyo had accumulated hundreds of tons of chemicals in order to make enough sarin gas to kill millions of people. The production was conducted at the Satyan 7 facility in the Kamikuishiki complex, outside of Tokyo, near Mt. Fuji. The complex was designed to produce thousands of kilograms a year.
In the months following the subway attack the Japanese Metropolitan Police arrested Asahara and the main leaders of the sect Asahara was put on trial where he pleaded not guilty to all charges, claiming that his followers acted without his knowledge. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to death, although Asahara's attorneys appealed. Other Aum leaders received death sentences while some received life sentences. Many members have sought appeals, but Japanese courts have rejected most.
Oddly enough, and despite the scale of Aum's activities, the Japanese government did not outlaw Aum Shinrikyo. In 1997, a legal panel decided that its depleted membership and the public abandonment of its ambitions meant that Aum was not dangerous anymore. Enough suspicion remained however, to pass a special law that enabled Japanese authorities to monitor Aum activities for the following three years. This has been extended at the end of each period 3 year, with the last extension occurring in January 2006.
After Asahara's imprisonment and subsequent trial, Fumihiro Joyu, former Aum spokesman, became the new head of the organization. It was under his leadership that Aum changed its name to Aleph in 2000. Aleph has now about 1,500 members. Since 2000, Aleph has moved to distance itself from Aum's goals and doctrine. It redefined Asahara as "founder" rather than "Supreme Leader" and forbid the use of poa. It has apologized for its past acts of terrorism and paid reparation to the victims of the Tokyo underground sarin attack.
However, Aleph's new direction has not been embraced by all of Aum's followers. Fissions between group members have begun to appear, with one faction led by Joyu and another by Tatsuko Muraoka and Asahara's biological children. Muraoka's faction reportedly follows Asahara's original teachings and continues to support the group's incarcerated former leader. It has been widely reported that the tensions have continued and it seems that a permanent split is imminent.
The group has not been directly involved in any terrorist violence since 1995. However, In 2000 Aleph members were discovered gathering sensitive information on nuclear power plants. The cult hacked into classified computer networks to obtain information about nuclear facilities in Russia, Ukraine, China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Also, in 2000, Russian Aum followers were allegedly planning on conducting a series of attacks against Japanese child care facilities, to try to gain Asahara's release. The Japanese Aleph Headquarters has denied any connection with this plan.
Currently, Aleph is once again seeking contributions, selling publications to members, organizing seminars, conducting training and selling computers. Authorities report approximately 1,650 people in Japan and 300 in Russia still believe in Asahara's teachings. The cult holds 50 seminars a month for current and potential members. Aleph has offices all over Japan, including Tokyo, and, reportedly maintains approximately 100 safe houses throughout the country. It has been reported that at least 700 members are monk-like devotees and that mind control techniques are still part of Aleph's activities.
Shoko Asahara's attorneys appealed his death sentence; a decision is expected shortly.
U.S. Government Designations
Yes (in 2005)
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