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Tuesday, May 26, 1998 Published at 05:51 GMT 06:51 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Life sentence for Japan's 'Dr Death'

Ikuo Hayashi: remorse is thought to have saved him from a death sentence

A leading member of the Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth) cult, which carried out a deadly gas attack on the Tokyo underground system in 1995, has been sentenced to life imprisonment in a Japanese court.

Ikuo Hayashi's apparent remorse and his co-operation in the investigation are believed to have influenced the decision to punish him with life imprisonment instead of the death penalty.

Dubbed "Dr Death" by the Japanese media, former brain surgeon Hayashi, 51, is the first person to be sentenced in connection with the attack. He and other cult members released sarin nerve gas in the underground railway system.

The attack killed 12 and caused illness or injury in 5,000 people. Some survivors are permanently disabled by the attack.

In court, Dr Hayashi pleaded guilty to the charges but said he was acting on the orders of the cult's leader, Shoko Asahara. He apologised to the families of those who died in the gassing.

Hayashi joined the Aum cult in 1988. He is thought to have used electric shocks to brainwash cult members and advised Mr Asahara on biological warfare.

Mr Asahara himself is still on trial facing 17 charges of murder and attempted murder. His trial is expected to last for years but if he is convicted many legal experts here believe he will face the death penalty.

Hayashi's confessions to police and prosecutors facilitated Asahara's arrest.

The gassing on the trains - the worst act of terrorism in modern-day Japan - shocked a nation that had taken safety on the streets for granted.

The cult has also been implicated in another nerve-gas attack in central Japan in 1994 that killed seven people; in the deaths of several wayward followers; the near-fatal shooting of Japan's top police official; and the kidnapping and killing of an anti-cult lawyer and his family.

More than 400 of the cult's 10,000 members in Japan were arrested. More than 100 members have since been convicted, and the cult was forced to disband.

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