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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 09:47 GMT
Death for Japan cult chemist
Rescue workers at scene of 1995 sarin gas attack in Tokyo
The gas attack killed 12 and left thousands ill
A Japanese chemist who oversaw the development of nerve gas used in a 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway has been sentenced to death.

Masami Tsuchiya, 39, became the 11th member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that carried out the attack to be sentenced to death.

Prosecutors said he was the second most important person behind the attack, after the cult's leader Shoko Asahara.

The verdict on Mr Asahara's seven-year trial is expected next month.

Tsuchiya was enrolled on a doctorate programme in chemistry at Tsukuba University when he became involved with Aum, according to Kyodo news agency.

He was charged with murder and attempted murder in the subway gassing and other attacks.

He was accused of heading the cult's drive to develop chemical weapons including VX, mustard and sarin gases.

Aum Shinrikyo
Renamed Aleph and claims it is now benign
Has about 1,000 lay followers and 650 followers in cult communes
Predicted an apocalypse that only cult members would survive
Sarin was used in the March 1995 attack, which killed 12 people and left 5,000 people injured.

Tsuchiya also produced sarin gas for a July 1994 attack on a residential area in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto which killed seven people and injured 144 others, presiding judge Satoru Hattori said.

He had pleaded not guilty to all charges. It is not yet clear whether he plans to appeal. Ten other members of the cult who have already been sentenced to death have done so, and as such, have not yet been executed.

A feature of the Aum Shinrikyo case has been its marathon length. Tsuchiya's own trial has lasted more than eight years, in part because he dismissed his lawyers twice.

The hearings have involved 189 people, and will climax with the verdict on Mr Asahara, due on 27 February.

The cult leader has remained silent throughout most of his trial.

As well as the deaths caused by the subway gas attack in 1995, Mr Asahara is also charged with the 15 other killings alleged to have been carried out by the cult.

They include ordering the 1994 attack on Matsumoto.

Police raids and cult member confessions have revealed that Aum had numerous plans to overthrow the government.

The group has now renounced violence, and renamed itself Aleph, but the Japanese authorities still operate tight surveillance over it.


WATCH AND LISTEN
Leo Lewis, The Times, Tokyo
"The majority of members of this cult appear to have been peaceful"



SEE ALSO:
Rise of Japanese cults
14 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Death for Japan cult member
29 Oct 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Japan warning on doomsday cult
11 Apr 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Cult leader trial resumes in Japan
23 May 02  |  Asia-Pacific
Death sentence on Aum leader upheld
13 Dec 01  |  Asia-Pacific


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