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Tuesday, May 18, 1999 Published at 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Police swoop on Japanese cult

Seventy police raided a mountainside site

By Juliet Hindell in Tokyo

Japanese police have raided facilities belonging to the Aum Shrini Kyo cult - the group which released Sarin gas on the Tokyo underground in 1995, killing 12 and injuring 5,000.

In an early-morning swoop, 70 police descended on two prefabricated buildings in a mountain forest which are believed to belong to the Aum cult.

Some television reports said the cult had made an underground bunker at the site.

Investigators suspect that the land was fraudulently bought by a cult member, posing as a campsite operator and using someone else's name.

The homes of two cult members in Tokyo and other cult buildings in central and northern Japan were also raided.

Members of the cult, including the leader, Shoko Asahara, are still on trial for murder, in connection with the gas attack on Tokyo commuter trains in 1995 and other crimes.

Cult never banned

After the gassing, there were calls for the cult to be banned outright under a subversion law. In the end, the law was not invoked.

Nevertheless, many people in Japan still fear the cult, and local residents protest whenever members move into communities.

On Tuesday, the Home Affairs Minister, Takeshi Noda, said he regretted that the cult had not been outlawed.

Aum issued a statement following the raids, saying it was only seeking a place to live and that its members were victims of religious suppression.

Police say the cult has 2,000 members, 900 of whom live in cult facilities. The cult is known to be actively recruiting - it recently held a pop concert and a series of seminars in Tokyo designed to attract new members.

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