Aum Shinrikyo


Aum Shinrikyo was the Japanese Doomsday Cult responsible for the 1995 Tokyo subway attacks. Cult members used sarin gas to kill thirteen people and injure a further 5,000 in Japan’s most deadly act of terrorism. Cult leader Shoko Asahara and six other members were hanged on the 6th July 2018.

On the 20th March 1995 during the morning rush hour five members of Aum Shinrikyo boarded Tokyo’s busiest commuter lines.  Each carried a spiked umbrella and two plastic bags full of 0.9 litres of liquid sarin. At coordinated stations, the cultists pierced the bags and got off the train to meet their getaway drivers.
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Victims of the 1995 Tokyo subway attacks

Sarin is the most deadly nerve agent. Created by the Nazis, it causes a victim’s nervous system to destroy itself. Sarin is absorbed through the skin: effects include convulsions, paralysis, permanent brain damage and/or death. A pinhead is enough to kill an adult.

Shoko Asahara, a visually impaired acupuncturist, started meditation classes from his Tokyo apartment in 1984. He claimed to be able to levitate, and could help others achieve salvation by withdrawing from society and following his teachings. Like Charles Manson, Asahara was a New Age guru who manipulated others to evil. He would later declare himself the incarnation of Lord Shiva, the Buddha and Jesus Christ.

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Aum Shinrikyo was officially founded in 1987, a year after Asahara found ‘enlightenment’ in the Himalayas. The cult’s name derives from the Hindu symbol of creation, Aum, and the Japanese word for ‘supreme truth’. Aum Shinrikyo combined Mahayana Buddhist teachings with Hinduism, Taoism, Christian eschatology and, to a lesser extent, the writings of Nostradamus and Isaac Asimov.

Asahara and his followers believed the Apocalypse would occur in 2000, after which the Third Buddhist Age of ‘Shoho’, when nirvana is attainable by all, would commence. Secretly, they believed it was their job to induce it.

asahara book.jpgIn 1989 Aum Shinrikyo gained official recognition as a religious organisation. From their commune at the base of Mount Fuji, Aum exploited the spiritual void left by Japan’s obsession with work and materialism to proselytise disillusioned students and intellectuals. Asahara published several books and spoke at universities. At its peak, Aum had over 10,000 followers in Japan, and an estimated 30,000 in Russia. Many were graduates of Japan’s top universities, some of whom developed the chemical weapons used in 1995.

Few souls would survive the Apocalypse – only the members of Aum, and those they killed. Asahara’s disciples believed that by killing outsiders they would prevent them from attaining further bad karma, and therefore save their immortal souls. Everyone outside the cult was an enemy.

In 1989 Aum claimed its first victims; Tsutsumi Sakamoto, a lawyer investigating the cult, his wife and baby son.  Over the following years, they secretly amassed an arsenal of weapons, attempted to obtain anthrax and ebola samples and even a nuclear warhead. Chemical nerve agents proved more practical. In 1994, cultists used sarin gas to murder seven in the village of Matsumoto.

After the 1995 Tokyo Subway incident, Japanese police raided the Aum Shinrikyo commune. Inside they discovered stockpiles of LSD and other drugs, a Russian military helicopter and enough sarin to kill 4 million people.

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Aum Shinrikyo members executed last Friday. Clockwise from top left:

  • Shoko Asahara
  • Tomomasa Nakagawa –  murdered Mr Sakamoto and his family
  • Seiichi Endo – head scientist
  • Masami Tsuchiya – chief chemist, developed Aum’s sarin supply
  • Kiyohide Hayakawa – ‘construction minister’, strangled a dissident cult member in 1989
  • Tomomitsu Niimi – ‘minister of internal affairs’, getaway driver
  • Yoshihiro Inoue – ‘head of intelligence’ and mastermind of the 1995 subway attack

Nine others await execution.

In 2004 Asahara and his inner circle were convicted of a total of 27 counts of murder and placed on death row. The last culprit, a getaway driver, was arrested in 2012.

Aum Shinrikyo survived and renamed itself ‘Aleph’ in 2000. The group has ostensibly rejected violence, but remains under tight police supervision. It currently has 1650 members.

Sources: Apologetics Index, Associated Press, BBC, Council on Foreign Relations, Japan Times, Rationalwiki



Thailand (ราชอาณาจักรไทย), formerly known as Siam, is the only country in Southeast Asia never colonised by Europeans. Thailand is a devoutly Buddhist nation known for its temples, elephants, cuisine and military coups.

Four regions constitute Thailand, each with its own history, dialect and culture.

  • thai regions.jpgThe Central Region, centred on Bangkok, is the richest and most politically significant. Central Thai is the main spoken language.
  • The Northern Region is the heartland of the old Lanna kingdom. Most people speak the Northern Thai dialect of Kham Muang. Hill tribes like the Hmong and Karen inhabit the mountains.
  • The Northeast, also known as Isan, is the poorest and most populated part of Thailand.  Isan people are ethnically Lao and speak a Lao dialect. Khmer is also spoken in the south.
  • The Southern Region is the skinny peninsula to the south, a tropical land of islands and picturesque beaches popular with foreign tourists. Local speak the Southern dialect and, in the Muslim areas of the far south, Malay. A quiet insurgency haunts the Malaysian border provinces.

Thailand’s official language is the Central dialect, or simply ‘Thai’. Outside the Central Region, most learn Thai at school and their regional dialect at home.  Like Chinese, Thai is a tonal a language, where words have different meanings based on their inflexion. It is influenced by Sanskrit, Pali and Khmer, and closely related to Lao. Thailand has used its own unique script since the 14th century. It looks similar but is not the same as those of Burma and Laos.

The Thais migrated from southern China in the 11th century, introducing Theravada Buddhism, walled cities and wet rice cultivation to their new home. The indigenous population were assimilated or driven to the hills. In their place, the Thais established the lowland kingdoms of Ayutthaya, Lan Na and Sukothai. In the 1400s Ayutthaya replaced Angkor as the dominant power in Southeast Asia. By 1700, Ayutthaya was the most populated city in the world.

In 1768 Burmese invaders burned Ayutthaya to the ground. Taksin the Great, an Ayutthaya general of Chinese descent expelled them but was overthrown by his lead commander Chakri. Chakri founded the kingdom of Siam, with a new capital at Bangkok, and the dynasty that rules to this day.

rama v.jpgThe fifth king, Chulalongkorn (1853-1910, pictured), modernised the kingdom, opened trade with Britain and earned recognition on par with the monarchs of Europe. He is credited with the abolition of slavery and saving Siam from colonisation.

In 1932 a bloodless revolution overthrew the absolute monarchy and established a constitutional one. One of the revolutionists, Phibun, was a fascist and admirer of Mussolini. As Prime Minister, he changed Siam’s name to Thailand, mandated western dress and sided with the Axis in WW2. The royal family went into exile and others, including some 1932 leaders, fought with the Allies.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej was head of state from 1946 to 2016, the longest reign of any monarch. He reinstated the institution of monarchy and oversaw Thailand’s rise from a rural backwater to a robust middle economy. Bhumibol is revered among Thais today.

Thailand is Asia’s 8th largest economy. The biggest industry in Thailand is rice cultivation, which employs 40% of the population. After India, Thailand is the second biggest rice exporter in the world. Tourism is another major industry, accounting for 12% of Thailand’s GDP. In 2017 Bangkok was the most visited city in the world.

bangkok 2.jpgDespite Thailand’s recent growth and status as a newly industrialised country, prosperity is not even. In 2016 Credit Suisse ranked Thailand as the third most unequal country, after Russia and India. The top 1% owns 58% of the country’s wealth.

Modern Thailand shifts ceaselessly between periods of civilian and military rule.  Typically the people elect a government, it threatens the interests of the elite then the military overthrows it. Thailand has suffered 12 successful coups since 1932, the most of any country. The current government seized power in 2014.

Every time there is a coup, the new regime will introduce a new constitution. As a result, Thailand has had 20, again the most of any country.

Thai society has generally remained stable despite changes at the top. Unlike the rest of Indochina, modern Thailand has never suffered a civil war.

Sources: Bangkok Post, Cathay Pacific,  Credit Suisse, Global Security, Washington Post, Wikipedia

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