Japan Media Berated for Cozy Ties with Police in Probe of Gas Attack after Two Months of Gathering Evidence, Police Issue Arrest Warrants for Top Leaders of Aum Sect

Article excerpt

JAPANESE police are tightening the net around top members of the religious sect Aum Shinri Kyo -- widely blamed for the deadly nerve-gas attack in Tokyo in March -- amid worries that group members will respond with violence if founder Shoko Asahara is arrested.

Last night, police were seeking arrest warrants charging Mr. Asahara and other sect leaders with direct responsibility for the nerve-gas attack on March 20 that killed 12 people and injured thousands. Raids on the sect's facilities near Mt. Fuji, where the ailing Asahara is believed to be in hiding, were expected after the warrants are obtained.

At the same time, some critics are accusing the authorities of manipulating the media and the media of being overly reliant on police in their coverage.

The result, these critics note, is that Aum is almost universally considered responsible for the gas attack and other similar incidents since then, even though none of its members have been formally accused of the attack during almost two months of investigation, much less tried in a court of law.

Early yesterday, police arrested an Aum member named Yoshihiro Inoue, the head of the group's self-styled "intelligence ministry."

Police say Mr. Inoue organized the subway attack, and have leaked details of one of his notebooks, including notations describing the schedules and ridership of the three subway lines targeted in the gas attack.

Police have characterized the notebook as a breakthrough, since it is the first material evidence they have obtained linking Aum with the incident.

Under Japanese law, police must build a case on physical, rather than circumstantial, proof to obtain convictions for murder.

With the investigation now in what appears to be its final stage, Japanese television networks have been airing hours of coverage of the case, in which lengthy talk shows are punctuated by occasional reports of an actual event. As they have been doing for weeks, Japanese newspapers are printing countless stories, virtually all attributed to the police, about the activities of Aum members and the progress of the investigation.

According to these reports:

*Two Aum members, Masami Tsuchiya and Seiichi Endo, have admitted to police that they were involved in the production of sarin, the gas used in the Tokyo incident. Another unnamed Aum member, also in police custody, has said he carried a vinyl bag containing sarin onto a subway car on March 20.

According to the latest police theory, Aum chemists produced the sarin at its facility near Mt. Fuji, and about a dozen conspirators were involved in releasing the substance at five points on three subway lines packed with commuters. …


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