The Sarin Gas Attack on the Tokyo Subway
Terrorism has always been a part of human’s history. Although there is still no clear explanation about the act of terrorism, a terrorist and terrorism itself, it is evident that it has a drastic consequence on the society and the people’s lives. Technically, terrorism is classified as international and domestic.
This paper will focus on a particular domestic terrorism – the Sarin Gas Attack on the Tokyo Subway. Included here is the account of the incident, the perpetrators, the chemical used, the victims and the long-term effect of this incident.
The Sarin Gas Attack on the Tokyo Subway The Sarin Gas Attack on the Tokyo Subway was considered the worst terrorist attack in Japan. Five members of the Aum Shinrikyo armed with sarin gas executed the assault on the morning of March 20, 1995 in the busy subways of Tokyo. Five more members were waiting outside as getaway drivers. The perpetrators entered the Marunouchi, Hibiya and the Chiyoda subway lines with bags of sarin covered with newspaper. They boarded trains and released the sarin by pricking the bags with their pointed umbrellas.
As the liquid nerve agent turned into gas and mixed with the air, the commuters were immediately poisoned. It resulted to 12 deaths and more than 3,000 were injured. Because sarin poisoning was still unfamiliar during that time, Japan’s medical system had a hard time diagnosing and treating the victims. Hospitals were only given information on the diagnosis and treatment through fax by Dr. Yanagisawa Nobuo who had encountered treating sarin poisoning. Today, many of the victims still suffer from the nerve agent’s after effects such as breathing problems, depression and brain damage.
Aum Shinrikyo Aum Shinrikyo is the Japanese phrase for “Supreme Truth. ” It is founded in 1984 by partially blind Chizuo Matsumoto, known as Master Shoko Asahara to his followers. It started as a yoga and meditation class and progressed later on. It was recognized as a religious organization in 1989 and it was called a “religion for the elite” because the recruits were mostly young graduates from the country’s premium universities. This group worships Shiva being their god and its belief is a combination of Buddhism, Taoism, tantric yoga and Asahara’s interpretation of Christianity.
Their teachings have great emphasis on apocalyptic scenarios and millennial visions being Nostradamus as one of their prophets. Asahara also prophesized that Japan would soon be annihilated by biological, nuclear and chemical weapons as a part of the impending Armageddon in 1999, and only the followers of Aum Shinrikyo will survive. There are three training systems the followers must undergo in order to obtain deliverance. The first is called the tantric yoga where the recruit is taught basic yoga, ways of personal cleansing and meditation.
The second is called the siddhi course where the students are taught the release of an energy called kundalini which they believed to be dwelling “in a latent state at the base of the spine” (http://encarta. msn. com). The third course is called bodha from which energy from Asahara is spiritually transferred to the disciples. They also believe that salvation can be attained by giving up material things and by offering personal riches to the organization. Aum Shinrikyo is not concentrated in Japan alone. Around the world, it has approximately 20,000 to 40,000 members.
In order to financially sustain their activities and operations, the cult collects money by means of tithes, donations, selling religious stuff and other merchandises. The believers who attend the cult’s seminars and trainings are also charged with large amount of money. The cult also owns a computer factory and a chain of restaurants in Japan. Before the March 20, 1995 incident, Aum Shinrikyo has been linked with a number of other assaults. It attempted to discharge butulin toxin around the government buildings in Tokyo in April 1990.
During the wedding of the crown prince in June 1993, it again made an attempt to release the same poison around the imperial palace. On June 27, 1994, a several members of the cult released a cloud of sarin in a residential area of Matsumoto, a city located northwest of Tokyo. Seven people died and five hundred more were hospitalized. What followed here was the most tragic attack which became the eye-opener to the great possibility of chemical agents as weapon of mass destruction. The Main Perpetrators The following are five groups of the ten members of Aum Shinrikyo responsible for the March 20, 1995 attack: Ikuo Hayashi and his driver Tomomitsu Niimi • Kenichi Hirose and his driver Koichi Kitamura • Toru Toyoda and his driver Katsuya Takahashi • Masato Yokoyama and his driver Kiyotaka Tonozako • Yasuo Hayashi and his driver Shigeo Sumimoto Ikuo Hayashi was a heart and artery specialist doctor before he joined Aum Shinrikyo in 1990. He left his family and his job and followed Asahara and became the Minister of Healing. He handled members who were suspected for betrayal by administering electric shocks and sodium pentothal. He was assigned to execute the assault on the Chiyoda line.
He boarded the southwestbound train and pierced the bag of chemical at Shin-ochanomuzu station. This resulted to two deaths and 231 people were injured. After the incident at the subways, he was given a sentence of life imprisonment. His driver, Tomomitsu Niimi was sentenced to death. Prior to joining Aum Shinrikyo, Kenichi Hirose was a “holder of a postgraduate degree in Physics from Waseda University” (Wikipedia). He had major contribution in the cult’s Chemical Brigade and Automatic Light Weapon Development system. He was assigned to release the chemical on the westbound Marunochi line headed to Ogikubo.
He boarded the train and punctured the bag of sarin at the Ochanomizu station. One died and 358 suffered from the toxin. He himself was affected by the sarin that he discharged but was able to inject himself with the antidote, atropine sulphate, and was given medical attention at the cult’s headquarters. Toru Toyoda was also a member of the Chemical Brigade of Aum Shinrikyo. He was an applied physics graduate from Tokyo University before he became an Aum’s disciple. The northeastbound Hibiya line was the assignment of Toyoda. He boarded the train going to Tobu-dobutsukoen and released sarin at Ebisu.
This resulted to one death and 532 serious injuries. He was also sentenced to death after this attack. Masato Yokoyama was the Undersecretary of the cult’s Ministry of Science and Technology and one of the contributories of their Automatic Light Weapons Manufacturing system. Prior to becoming Aum’s member, he was an applied physics graduate of Tokai University. He was assigned at the Ikeburo-bound Marunouchi line. He boarded the train at Shinjuku and punctured his bag of sarin at Yotsuya. The agent evaporated slowly because he was only able to pierce one hole. He was given death sentence after this incident.
Yasuo Hayashi held the third highest position in Aum’s Ministry of Science and Technology. He graduated from Kogakuin Univeristy with a degree in artificial intelligence. He was assigned to release sarin at the southwestbound Hibiya line leaving Kita-senju headed to Naka-meguro. He punctured the bags of sarin at Akihabara. Because of the number of punctures he made, commuters were instantly affected by the chemical. This resulted to 8 deaths and 275 serious injuries. He was also sentenced to death after the incident as well as his getaway driver Shigeo Sugimoto.
After this assault, Aum Shinrikyo’s assests were taken away from the group as well as its status as a religious organization. Sarin Asahara ordered his members to mass produce sarin in 1993 and the chemical plant started to operate in 1994. Originally, sarin was developed to be used as a pesticide. It was first made in Germany in 1938 and it is not organic. It is colorless, odorless and tasteless liquid that mix into the air when vaporized. It is now considered as a chemical warfare agent under the category of a nerve agent.
Nerve agents are the deadliest and fastest acting chemical warfare agents. These are comparable to insect killers, organophosphates, because of the hazards that they bring. Because of the nature of sarin, humans are vulnerable to the fatal effects of this chemical. There are various means that a person can be exposed to this. Once it vaporized into the air, a person can contract sarin through the eyes, skin and nose. If sarin is mixed in water, a person can be poisoned by drinking or even touching the water. Solid food can also be tainted with sarin which is also lethal if eaten.
People situated at lower grounds tend to have greater exposure to sarin because of its dense vapor. The degree of toxicity brought by sarin can be determined by the person’s manner of exposure to the chemical, the amount of the chemical and how long was the person’s exposure. If a person is exposed to sarin in its vapor form, the symptoms will be obvious within a few seconds. If it is in the liquid form, on the other hand, the symptoms will show within a few minutes up to 18 hours. Generally, nerve agents work by inhibiting the chemicals in the body to perform its function as the regulator of the muscles and glands.
Once the effects of sarin take place, the muscles and glands will no longer be slowed down resulting to fatigue and breathing difficulty. Of all the nerve agents, sarin is the fastest to change its form from liquid into gas and scatter into the air. Due to this characteristic, its effects take place instantly but short-term. The following are the signs and symptoms of exposure to a small or average dose of sarin: • Runny nose • Watery eyes • Small, pinpoint pupils • Eye pain • Blurred vision • Drooling and excessive sweating • Cough • Chest tightness • Rapid breathing • Diarrhea • Increased urination • Confusion • Drowsiness Weakness • Headache • Nausea, vomiting • Slow or fast heart rate • Low or high blood pressure The following are the signs and symptoms of exposure to high doses of sarin: • Loss of consciousness • Convulsions • Paralysis • Respiratory failure possibly leading to death (http://terrorism. about. com) Sarin Poisoning Victims According to survey conducted about the sarin gas poisoning victims, year after the incident, more than 17% of the respondents still suffer from mental and emotional stress. Of the 5,300 individuals spoken to, only 1,500 agreed to respond to the survey, signifying that they are still disturbed by the incident.
Of the respondents, many experience “flashbacks to the event and panic attacks when boarding trains” (www. factnet. org). Although majority of the victims still endure constant eye strain and other physical ailments, the most vital point is the mental distress. A large number of the victims still “worry about getting involved in a similar incident”; “feel sad when I encounter something that reminds me of the incident”; and “try not to think about anything related to the incident” (www. factnet. org). Aum Shinrikyo Today After the attack on March 20, 1995, Aum Shinrikyo changed its name to Aleph and it had a new leader, Fumihiro Joyu.
Joyu declared that the group gave up its illicit interests and violent practice. Aleph also gave out about 2. 5 million dollars for the victims of the assault. But being on the list of terrorists, they are still being monitored in the conviction that it still has malicious objectives. Its members are now ranging approximately from 1,500 to 2,000 who communicate through the Internet and videoconference. Most of its followers are in Japan and some are in Russia despite the ban imposed to the cult. Although the group gained negative image, it is still onto progressive recruitment and publicity.
In order to sustain their activities, they maintain their method of earning money such as soliciting donations, selling religious paraphernalia, collecting tithes, conducting training and seminars and selling computers, which is the most productive source of funds. They are able to destabilize competitors by “producing cheap software and computers written and assembled by dedicated and low-waged cult members” (www. cdi. org). The possibility of manufacturing chemical and biological weapons is now very small since the abolishment of the group’s chemical facilities in a number of raids.
There are still debates, though, about the implications that this cult may have brought in about terrorism especially with the use of chemical agents as weapons of mass destruction. Incidents such as this show how people underestimate terrorism. Japan is a country who has relatively low crime rate and Aum Shinrikyu is considered a religious organization which is expected to exhibit acts of good intentions. This incident calls for a broader perspective on terrorism as well as extra vigilance on the possibility of violence inflicted to a large number of people with the use of weapons of mass destruction.