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Wednesday, 1 March, 2000, 10:20 GMT
Japan's computers hit by cult fears
Victims in the Tokyo subway
Thousands of people were injured in the 1995 attack
Japan's Defence Agency has delayed the introduction of a new computer system after discovering that it used software developed by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult.

The discovery has prompted fears that the cult - which carried out the fatal gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 - could use the software to infiltrate government computers and gain access to vital defence information.


Nobody knows what they have done to the system and we need to check it thoroughly

Defence Agency spokesman
Tokyo police said the Defence Agency was one of 90 government bodies and private firms which had ordered software produced by the cult.

A Defence Agency spokesman told the AFP news agency: "We had been expecting to introduce the system today but halted the plan for the time being as it is too dangerous.

"Nobody knows what they have done to the system and we need to check it thoroughly."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki told a news conference: "It should not be impossible to replace the software with that developed by other companies."

Subcontractor

The Defence Agency signed a contract for the computer system with the Japan Electronic Computer Co Ltd last October.

The company, which is not linked to Aum, was to supply the system linking networks at 20 army garrisons across Japan, giving them internet and e-mail access, the defence agency spokesman said.

Shoko Asahara
Shoko Asahara was deposed as the cult's leader in January
However, the computer firm "told us they had discovered one of the subcontractors they used was linked to Aum".

The spokesman said the Defence Agency was "investigating whether Aum members, under the pretext of developing software for the agency, had a chance to figure out ways to break the firewall" that prevents illicit access to its networks.

Tokyo police said software firms run by Aum members had also provided products for the Construction Ministry, the Education Ministry, and the Post and Telecommunications Ministry.

Raids

The deals were discovered on Tuesday after police launched raids on eight apartments belonging to cult members.

Local reports said about 40 Aum followers were operating five software companies and conducted sales activities covering 500 major companies by offering large discounts.

Twelve people were killed and thousands more were injured when Aum launched the sarin gas attack on Tokyo's subway system in March 1995.

Aum preached that the world was coming to an end and the cult must arm itself.

However in January this year, the cult issued a statement deposing jailed Shoko Asahara as leader, changing its name to Aleph, and vowing to introduce reforms - which included a promise to obey the law.
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See also:

31 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Stricter surveillance for Japanese cult
26 Dec 98 |  Asia-Pacific
Doomsday cult revival
18 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Aum cult blames leader for gas attack
29 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Japanese cult 'to compensate' victims
01 Oct 98 |  World
Sarin uncovered
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