Only a Few Clues Penetrate Mystery of Poisonous Gas

By Compiled From News Services | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 21, 1995 | Go to article overview

Only a Few Clues Penetrate Mystery of Poisonous Gas


Compiled From News Services, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Japanese police began a massive investigation Monday after a nerve gas attack on subway trains and stations in Tokyo killed seven people and injured almost 4,700. But any clear suspects or motives have yet to emerge.

"Why did they have to do this?" said Bunjiro Iwata, whose daughter Takako, 32, died in Monday's morning rush-hour horror. "Why did they have to kill my innocent daughter?"

Police and experts asked the same question about a seemingly pointless crime for which no one has claimed responsibility. Officials called it a deliberate, indiscriminate act of murder.

"I can't deplore this act strongly enough," said Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama after an emergency Cabinet meeting. He ordered an all-out effort to apprehend those responsible for the attack.

In Washington, the White House condemned the attack as "senseless" and said the United States was prepared to offer technical assistance to help Japan if needed.

Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department mobilized 300 detectives to investigate what one official called "a case virtually unparalleled in the history of crime in this country."

Overall, about 10,000 police officers were assigned to the investigation. Police patrolled subway platforms, looking for clues and making sure there were no other packages. All day Monday, police and military chemical warfare experts in gas masks and protective clothing also examined the five trains where sarin seeped from containers and packages wrapped in newspaper to look like lunch boxes.

But police appeared to have few clues to help them establish a motive for the attack. Some passengers reported seeing a man in a surgical mask. Others said they saw a man in sunglasses leaving lunchbox-size packets in train cars or on platforms.

After the morning rush-hour attack, passengers on trains and platforms all over central Tokyo fainted, vomited or went into convulsions as the fumes spread. Police said at least five unidentified suspects left various containers filled with sarin, a volatile liquid that easily becomes a gas at normal temperatures, on the trains.

A spokesman for the Teito Rapid Transit Authority, the subway's operators, said at least five trains on three lines were boarded simultaneously by suspects carrying the lethal gas, shortly after 8 a.m Monday (5 p.m. Sunday St. Louis time).

By late evening, seven people - five commuters and two subway officials - had died and 4,695 had been treated in 105 hospitals, police said. Many of the injured were released after treatment for minor doses of the poison. But police said that 76 people were listed in critical condition at hospitals and that 46 others were in serious condition, most of them with respiratory problems. …

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