Authorities Raid Cult After Former Leader's Death Sentence Upheld

Japanese authorities raided the offices Saturday of the doomsday cult that carried out the deadly 1995 nerve gas attacks on Tokyo's subways.

The goal was to pre-empt any violent reaction to Friday's Supreme Court decision upholding the death penalty against Shoko Asahara, the cult's founder and former leader.

Japan's Public Security Intelligence Agency dispatched 250 officers to 25 of the group's facilities around the country, inspecting files, interviewing members and examining computers, an agency official said. Nothing out of the ordinary was detected, he said.

The nearly blind Asahara, born Chizuo Matsumoto, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2004 on charges of masterminding attacks that killed 27 people. Twelve of those were killed in the subway attack, in which followers released sarin nerve gas on crowded commuter trains traveling to Tokyo's government district.

Asahara could still forestall his execution by applying for a retrial or an emergency appeal. If he does nothing, he will be executed within six months of receiving official court notice of Friday's ruling.

The Tokyo gassing was a severe psychological shock to Japan, a nation that had long prided itself on its orderly, highly secure society. The impact was heightened by the fact that the bearded guru had recruited graduates from some of Japan's most prestigious universities.

Asahara ruled with an iron hand, bewitching followers with a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism and yoga. Initiates paid large sums to drink Asahara's dirty bath water or sip his blood. The disobedient were killed and incinerated in a huge microwave oven at cult headquarters.

Flush with cash, the cult amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with the government.