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Report: Former Japanese Cult Leader Files Death-Sentence Appeal

Defense lawyers for a former doomsday cult leader, sentenced to death for masterminding the 1995 Tokyo subway gassing, filed a special appeal against his death sentence with Japan's top court on Monday, a news report said.

Shoko Asahara was convicted in 2004 and sentenced to hang for masterminding the Tokyo assault, in which members of the cult released deadly sarin gas on trains converging on the city's government district, killing 12 and sending thousands to hospitals.

Asahara's lawyers filed a special appeal against Asahara's death sentence with the Supreme Court on Monday after the Tokyo High Court threw out a similar appeal in March, saying Asahara was mentally fit to stand trial, according to Kyodo News agency.

CountryWatch: Japan

Asahara's lawyers argue that the former guru suffers from pathological mental stress caused by confinement and is unfit for trial. The lawyers could not be reached late Monday to confirm the report.

The nearly blind former leader, who once commanded a powerful group with about 40,000 members, mumbled incoherently during his eight-year trial, interrupting sessions with bizarre outbursts in English. But last month, a court-appointed psychiatrist said Asahara may be feigning mental illness.

Asahara has also been convicted of plotting a 1994 gas attack in the central Japanese city of Matsumoto that killed seven people, the kidnapping and murder of an anti-cult lawyer and his family, and other slayings.

About a dozen other Aum Shinrikyo leaders have been sentenced to death, although none of have been executed.

Three members wanted in the subway gassing remain on the run.

At its height, Aum claimed 10,000 followers in Japan and another 30,000 in Russia. Now named Aleph, the group has about 6,500 members and is under surveillance by Japan's Public Safety Agency.