Doomsday Cult Leader Stabbed to Death by Rightist
TOKYO (AP) _ As police and dozens of reporters looked on, a right-wing extremist on Sunday ambushed and fatally stabbed the top scientist in the doomsday cult suspected in the lethal nerve gas attack on Tokyo’s subways.
The stabbing was the latest chapter in a wave of violence that has deeply shaken the Japanese, who have long taken the safety of their streets as a matter of national pride.
The vigilante-style attack occurred as Hideo Murai, 36, head of the Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth) cult’s ``Science and Technology Ministry,″ was returning to the cult’s Tokyo headquarters Sunday night. Murai was one of the five top leaders of the cult.
Murai underwent surgery, but died of blood loss and internal injuries several hours later. He was pronounced dead early Monday morning, police said. Television networks broke into regular programming to broadcast the attack nationwide, some repeatedly showing a knife plunging into Murai’s side in slow motion.
Aum believers were shown crying hysterically as Murai was taken away semiconscious. Dozens gathered at the hospital to donate blood for transfusions.
``Why didn’t the police protect him?″ demanded Yoshinobu Aoyama, the cult’s lawyer. ``They could have predicted this kind of thing.″
Murai, 36, was believed to be a focus of the investigation into whether the cult was involved in the March 20 subway attack, which killed 12 people and sickened 5,500.
An attacker who called himself a right-wing extremist got to him first, however, pushing his way through a throng of media people staking out the cult’s Tokyo headquarters and slashing repeatedly at Murai with a kitchen knife.
After Murai collapsed into the door of the Aum office in a pool of blood, the attacker dropped his bloodstained weapon and was arrested by police at the scene.
Police identified him as Hiroyuki Jo, 29, and said he claimed to be a member of a rightist organization.
Japan’s state-run television network, NHK, said Jo told police he wanted to punish Murai because of trouble caused by the cult.
The cult has denied any connection with the Tokyo attack.
The cult’s spokesman, Fumihiro Joyu, said Asahara, in hiding since the subway killings, had been informed of the murder and was meditating to console Murai’s spirit.
At a news conference early Monday, Joyu also hinted that Jo may have been put up to the stabbing by a larger force. He criticized the police and the media for ``creating the image that it would be alright to kill Murai, or to kill Asahara.″
``We do not feel hatred for the person who did this, or the force that may be behind him,″ Joyu said, without explaining what that force might be. ``Hatred never ends with hatred, but only with love.″
The cult has been the focus of an intense police investigation since the March 20 subway killings. Police have conducted daily searches of cult compounds over the past month and discovered tons of chemicals and equipment that could have been used to produce sarin, the kind of nerve gas used in the subway attack.
Reports quoting anonymous police sources said that officials have also uncovered evidence of facilities to make rifles, biological warfare labs and even plans to purchase nuclear weapons from Russia.
The subway killings inaugurated a series of crimes that have deeply rattled the Japanese sense of security.
Ten days after the subway attack, Japan’s top police official, who was responsible for the investigation, was shot and nearly killed as he left home for work.
And, as Parliament passed a law banning the possession of sarin last week, hundreds of people were sickened by toxic fumes released at a major train station just south of Tokyo. Nearly two dozen more were hospitalized in a similar incident at a shopping center near the same station Friday.
Police have not made any arrests in any of those cases, and have not officially identified any suspects.
But Japanese media reported over the weekend that police were planning to round up top leaders of the cult _ including Murai and founder Shoko Asahara _ in connection with the subway attack, and reporters had been watching Aum facilities round the clock.
Thousands of police have been mobilized in and around Tokyo because of concerns that whoever carried out the gas attacks and the shooting might strike again.
Coin lockers and garbage cans at train stations have been sealed off, firefighters given training in handling dangerous chemicals and hospital workers instructions on treating nerve-gas victims.
Sunday’s attack was certain to only add to that already high level of anxiety. By dawn Monday, dozens of police in full riot gear were lined up ouitside of Aum’s Tokyo headquarters.
The department Murai headed within the cult has been linked to its chemical research, but he has appeared on television to deny that the cult ever has produced sarin.
Aum claims some 10,000 members in Japan and another 30,000 in Russia.
Along with worshipping Asahara, who claims to be a messiah, Aum followers adhere to a blend of Buddhist, Hindu and Christian teachings. Asahara has predicted that the next world war will erupt in 1997, and that it will bring the end of the world as we know it.