Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, who was sentenced to death by alongside 12 other members of Aum Shinrikyo for their role in the Tokyo attack, has been executed by the Japanese government.
Shoko Asahara was executed alongside seven members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, who carried out the deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway. Public broadcaster NHK reported that that Asahara’s death sentence was finalized in 2006, but trials of his co-conspirators dragged on for a further 12 years, as it was gathered that opponents of the death penalty attempted to block the executions.
Japanese Justice Minister Yoko Kawakami disclosed that Tomomasa Nakagawa, Tomomitsu Niimi, Kiyohide Hayakawa, Yoshihiro Inoue, Seiichi Endo and Masami Tsuchiya were hanged with Shoko Asahara. Six other people are still sentenced to death in connection to the 1995 attack and other Aum Shinrikyo crimes. The date of their executions is not known.
“I think it’s right that he was executed,” said Shizue Takahashi, whose husband, a subway worker, died after removing one of the sarin packages.
“My husband’s parents and my parents are already dead,” she added. “I think they would find it regrettable that they could not have heard the news of this execution.”
Kiyoe Iwata, whose daughter died in the attack, said the news had given her peace of mind. “I have always been wondering why it had to be my daughter and why she had to be killed,” she told public broadcaster NHK. ”Now I can visit her grave and tell her this news.”
Amnesty International reported that executions in Japan are done in secret, with no advance warning given to the prisoner, their family or legal representatives. Prisoners often only learn hours before that they are to be killed.
As the gas spread inside packed subway carriages, commuters started to cough and struggle for breath. Some of those who made it on to platforms and upstairs to street level collapsed, foaming at the mouth and coughing up blood. Survivors recalled smelling something that resembled paint thinner before starting to cough uncontrollably.
“Liquid was spread on the floor in the middle of the carriage, people were convulsing in their seats. One man was leaning against a pole, his shirt open, bodily fluids leaking out,” Sakae Ito, who was inside on one of the carriages, told Agence France-Presse.
TV footage showed members of self-defence forces, dressed in hazmat suits and full face masks, descending flights of stairs, still unaware of what had caused the incident. The attack killed 13 people and injured 5,500.
The attack was the worst terrorist incident on Japanese soil and rocked the country’s faith in its reputation for public safety. Shoko Asahara eluded arrest for two months until he was discovered hiding in a tiny space concealed behind a wall, along with piles of cash and a sleeping bag, at the cult’s compound.