Aum Shinrikyo

Aum Shinrikyo, meaning “Supreme Truth” is a group that we will be taking a deep look at in this article. AUM or OM is, of course, the sacred syllable in many Eastern religions.

Many people are familiar with AUM Shinrikyo because of their successful nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. However, there is much more to this group than just this attack. The group is incredibly interesting for many reasons. They began as a humble yoga studio but rose quickly to become a terror cult worth over a billion dollars. They had incredible capabilities and top scientists in their ranks. From start to demise there is much to learn from this group: their methods, their organizational strategies, their means of procuring funds and weapons, and so forth.

Our publication takes pride in investigating revolutionary groups and movements past and present from all over the world to see what we can learn from them. This one, despite not being not being National Socialist or even White for that matter, this deserves special attention.

The founder of the Aum, Shōkō Asahara , was a member of the neo-religious group Agonshu between 1981 and 1984. During that time, he familiarized himself with Hindu yoga and Buddhist Agama sutras. Asahara began to gather around him young followers interested in new religions. In the spring of 1986, the group took the name Aum shinsen-nokai, which means the “Aum group of mountain ascetics”

After spending time in India, Asahara declared that he had achieved enlightenment. His followers began to form communities of celibate monks and nuns to dedicate their lives to religious practice. In 1987, Asahara (until then called Matsumoto Chizuo) adopted his new name, which he believed would bring good luck. At the same time, he changed the name of his group to Aum Shinrikyo, “The Aum Teaching of the Highest Truth”. The group thus took on a clearly religious character in place of the earlier mountain asceticism. 

After becoming religious, Aum began to focus on the theory and practice of Buddhism fused with yoga. Asahara began meeting with important Tibetan Buddhist leaders. He was encouraged by the Dalai Lama whom asked Asahara to restore Japanese Buddhism, which had degenerated into ceremonialism, back to its essential truths. Asahara declared his movement’s goal to be the liberation of all people.

Asahara also had political goals. He said that politics can achieve some goals that religion cannot. In 1989, he founded the Truth Party, called Shinri-to in Japanese. The party tried to get its candidates into the lower house of the Japanese parliament in the February 1990 elections. Unfortunately, none of its candidates won.

The religious teachings of Shōkō Asahara and the Aum developed in stages between 1986 and 1995. During this period, Asahara adopted influences from astrology, Taoism, Hinduism (especially yoga), Buddhism (Hinayana, Mahayana, and Tantric Buddhism), the Christian apocalyptic tradition, and fused it all with science and technology.

Asahara interpreted certain writings of Tantric Buddhism, or Vajrayana, as meaning a guru can order his followers to kill someone because the victim’s time is already up.

From the 1990s onwards, the Aum had a friendly attitude towards science. Many young researchers belonged to the movement. The group sought to combine religion and science. They used scientific equipment to measure the effect of meditation.

In 1989, Asahara became interested in the prediction of Nostradamus, which said something serious would happen to humanity in 1999. Asahara interpreted this as the birth of a “new humanity” and world peace. Over the next few years, he began to speak of Armageddon. He said one could be saved by joining the Aum and sheltering in the population shelter it had built. After Armageddon, Buddhism would replace Christianity throughout the world. The Aum would become the center of the world. Asahara did not give a date for Armageddon, but the anticipation of it strengthened the group’s sense that they were a chosen people destined to survive.

Aum gained thousands of young people who became dedicated members of the movement. Those who joined the group were disillusioned with the materialistic world and were looking for a spiritual life. The gentle and charismatic Asahara was able to offer them acceptance. He offered them clear and logical answers to all of life’s important questions related to the purpose of life, filling inner emptiness, achieving personal understanding and acceptance, and healing mental and physical weaknesses and injuries. The members also said that they were able to grow spiritually with Asahara’s guidance.

The Aum was aware of the Jewish threat. In a 95-page publication issued two months before the Tokyo incident, the Aum stated that Jews were the “hidden enemy”. This special edition of the Vajrayana Sacca was entitled Manual of Fear. It began with a declaration of war on the Jewish people: “On behalf of the earth’s 5.5 billion people, Vajrayana Sacca hereby formally declares war on the “world shadow government” that murders untold numbers of people and, while hiding behind sonorous phrases and high sounding principles, plans to brainwash and control the rest. Japanese awake! The enemy’s plot has long since torn our lives to shreds.”

Global Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Case Study on the Aum Shinrikyo wrote: “The tract quotes liberally from a number of anti-Semitic writings and blames the Jewish people, for among other things, the mass murders in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, the massacres by Serbs and Croatians in Bosnia, and the tribal warfare in Rwanda. It claims that the Jews are planning similar massacres in other areas of the world in order to carry out a sinister plot to reduce the world’s population by three billion people by the year 2,000. The Aum also has linked the Jews to its other enemies within Japanese society — the “black aristocracy’ of Japanese “internationalists” including a number of current and former Japanese politicians and statesmen.”

The FireArmsNotPolitics blog wrote:

“In February 1993 members of Aum Shinrikyo cult traveled to Russia including among them a mechanical engineering graduate of the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Through a Russian contact they were able to tour several arms production plants and glean information on handling various weapons and explosives. During these lectures hours of video footage was taken to document the operation and mechanics of each weapon. At some point during these exchanges a single AK74 rifle was illegally procured with orders directly from leader Shoko Asahara to be smuggled back to Japan. This would serve as a template for the group to produce a rifle of their own.

After a small iron works in Kanazawa went bankrupt it was purchased by the group with the aim of producing the rifles. The ultimate goal revealed in later hearings was to be able to arm followers who during the ‘future apocalypse’ would rise up and establish a new government.”

On April 6, 1995, a large number of components analogous to AK-74 submachine gun parts, along with blueprints for their manufacture, were found in a car owned by an Aum member. Later, completed machine guns, additional parts, used rocket launchers and other military paraphernalia were found by Japanese police at the main Aum facility in Kamikuishiki. This is the same location where the sarin gas and biological facilities were located. The seized machine guns resembled Russian-made AK-74s.

The Aum had apparently planned to illegally manufacture as many as 1,000 AK-74s and plentiful ammunition before the police raids. Aum had been manufacturing parts for these guns with the aid of computer-controlled machine tools. They did this at the Aum complex, at the foot of Mt. Fuji, since July 1994. Apparently, Aum Intelligence Minister Inoue ordered the destruction of the weapons and lathes after the police raid on March 22nd. He also instructed that they all be dumped into the reservoir located at Kusaki Dam in Gunma Prefecture. Subsequent public statements by police authorities allege that over 100 Aum members were involved in the production of AK-74s.

It also appears that the Aum was interested in developing laser weapons.

Japanese government sources state that notations found in the Aum’s Construction Minister Hayakawa’s handwritten notebooks show that Aum was actively seeking information on the development of such weapons. These sources also indicate that a number of Aum members travelled to Moscow to interview Dr. Nikolay Basov, a purported Nobel Laureate and authority on the subject. There were Aum brochures with photographs purporting to show Dr. Basov with Asahara. The Aum also attempted to steal technology from NEC’s laser beam laboratory in Sagamihara in November of 1994. At the end of December, 1994, other Aum followers were arrested on suspicion of burglary at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Research Center in Hiroshima prefecture. They apparently broke into the facility on a number of occasions in an effort to steal documents and data on laser beam research.

They were also interested in developing chemical weapons. Here they met great success.

The prosecutor publicly charged that four members, under the direction of Asahara, planned to produce 70 tons of sarin within 40 days of completion of the sarin production facility, called Satyam No. 7. The prosecutors told the court that the defendants made sarin gas on three separate occasions in November and December 1993. They also produced another 30 kilograms of the deadly substance in February 1994. The prosecutors added that 20 kilograms of this batch was used in the June 1994 Matsumoto attack which killed 7 people.

The cult gas squad was to spray the sarin via a helicopter the Aum had purchased. In furtherance of this conspiracy, the prosecutors charged the cult with the purchase of the Soviet-made helicopter. If the plot succeeded, Asahara had promised to promote the cult members involved to senior positions in the Aum hierarchy. The four defendants charged have admitted to the police their involvement in building the sarin plant but deny they knew its purpose.

It is clear that around 1992 the Aum began to research poisonous gasses including sarin and other nerve agents such as tabun and soman. From confessions and other information, the Japanese police surmised that the Aum chose sarin because of its relative ease of production and the fact that the precursors for it were readily available.

The Aum elevated their efforts to develop and deploy sarin to mystical heights. In speeches, Asahara repeatedly refers to sarin. Documents found at an Aum facility included a December 30, 1994 manual on how to make sarin. Within the manual, which includes chemical configurations for sarin, is a song entitled “Song of Sarin, the Magician”.

The lyrics include:

“It came from Nazi Germany, a little dangerous chemical weapon,

Sarin Sarin –,

If you inhale the mysterious vapor, you will fall with

bloody vomit from your mouth,

Sarin–, Sarin–, Sarin–, the chemical weapon.

‘Song of Sarin, the Brave

In the peaceful night of Matsumoto City

People can be killed, even with our own hands!

The place is full of dead bodies all over,

There! Inhale Sarin, Sarin,

Prepare Sarin! Prepare Sarin! Immediately poisonous gas weapons will fill the place.

Spray! Spray! Sarin, the Brave, Sarin.”

Also referred to in the manual was a reference to “Uncle Fester” Uncle Fester is an American who could relate the know-how to produce sarin. According to U.S. experts on chemical weapons, Fester is a popular underground pseudonym for individual(s) who publish information on producing terrorist devices. 

As the song indicates, sarin is a deadly nerve agent first synthesized in the 1930’s. Other nerve agents with similar characteristics to sarin (GB) considered by the Aum are tabun (GA), soman (GF) and VX. They are all liquids, not gases. They can all be absorbed through the skin, are volatile and, at high temperatures or when aerosolized by an explosion or other method, can be inhaled.

Standard medical textbooks describe sarin as a colorless, odorless liquid that is 500 times more toxic than cyanide gas. Only half a milligram of sarin can kill a person. As a “nerve agent”, sarin belongs to a group of compounds that inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase which breaks down acetylcholine at the junction between nerve endings. This leads to an increase in secretions from the nose, eyes, mouth, airways and intestines, leading to twitching, weakness, paralysis and, eventually, death.

The initial effect of a small droplet on the skin may be unnoticed local sweating. The first systemic effects – nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps, followed by a feeling of uneasiness and sometimes muscle twitching – may not begin until 18 hours after exposure. A large exposure to liquid tabun, sarin and soman, or even a small amount of VX, may within one to thirty minutes cause sudden unconsciousness, convulsions, paralysis, and apnea (asphyxiation).

Exposure to a small amount of vapor will within seconds cause excessive constriction of the pupil of the eye, ocular pain, tunnel vision, and dim or blurred vision. Bronchoconstriction and increased bronchial secretions cause symptoms varying from mild discomfort to difficult or labored breathing. One or two breaths may lead to loss of consciousness within-seconds, followed by convulsions and, within minutes, paralysis and asphyxiation.

Atropine, which was used by our troops in the Persian Gulf war, is an antidote for sarin and other nerve agents. Atropine blocks the action of excess acetylcholine. This stops the deadly build-up that results in the increased secretions.

Starting in the spring of 1993, the Aum utilized its own chemical company to start acquiring the chemical agents and other materials necessary for full scale production. Sarin research and production was conducted under the direction of Masami Tsuchiya, head of the cult’s chemical team and Seiichi Endo, the cult’s Health and Welfare Minister. Production occurred at a facility in the Aum compound site in Kamikuishiki called Satyam No. 7.

Reports from Japanese officials indicate that the sarin production facility was extremely sophisticated. It was almost all fabricated by the Aum members themselves whom utilized their other companies as sources for material and technical expertise. According to prosecution sources, the cult produced 30 kilograms of sarin from their computerized chemical plant sometime in early 1994 before an accident caused them to shut down operations. It is believed that the sarin for the June 27, 1994 Matsumoto incident was made at this facility before the accident.

Apparently, the sarin used for the Tokyo incident was made on a smaller scale at a laboratory inside the Aum compound on March 19, 1995. It was made the day before the Tokyo subway incident. Unconfirmed reports indicate that there may be some sarin missing from the cult’s stockpiles. One such report indicates that Aum members may have buried sarin at undisclosed locations.

As previously noted, the Aum also tried to develop other chemical weapons such as soman, tabun, and VX. The Aum produced VX on at least four separate occasions in the same facility used to produce the Sarin compound. The VX was developed under the direction of Masami Tsuchiya for experimental purposes. However, full scale production never occurred.

There is credible evidence that the Aum did deploy small quantities of VX, one of the deadliest nerve agents known, on at least two occasions. Confessions from a number of Aum members implicate Tomomitsu Niimi, currently under arrest, for deploying this weapon on a number of enemies of the Aum. Japanese authorities have been quoted in the press as saying that Niimi has confessed to this crime.

It is confirmed from official documents that Niimi and others were involved in at least two attacks. They include the attack on Tadahiro Hamaguchi with VX on December 12, 1994, while he was walking on an Osaka street. Hamaguchi died ten days later on December 22nd. The police detected “mono-ethyl-methyl phosphoric acid”, a by-product produced only from VX, in Hamaguchi’s blood serum on July 22, 1995. This confirmed the presence of VX.

In another incident, Niimi attacked Hiroyuki Nagaoka, the head of the “Association of the Victims of Aum Shinrikyo” with VX gas. He survived but was in a coma for several weeks. It was dispensed by spraying it from a hypodermic syringe into the face of the victim. Nagaoka’s son told us that his father survived because his assailants missed his face.

The Japanese police believe that there may have been a third incident of VX deployment. However, they have not identified the victim or given many other details. Government sources state that the incident involved an 83-year old Tokyo man who collapsed in his house in December, 1994. This was, allegedly, from an Aum sponsored VX attack. The man never reported the incident to the police or authorities.

There have been police reports cited in the Japanese press that sodium cyanide, linked to cult members, was found in late September 1995. Police found as much as 8.5 kilograms of the sodium cyanide in the apparent hideout of an Aum fugitive. The amount of sodium cyanide found in these 17 bottles could kill approximately 70,000 people. The cyanide was found by hikers in September around a tent strewn with camping gear in the mountains. It was here that cult member Satoru Hiratu, a member of the intelligence ministry, is believed to have hidden. Sodium cyanide was also found in devices designed to generate highly toxic cyanide gas in a subway station in Tokyo. Hirata is on the wanted list for alleged involvement in the death of a Tokyo public notary official.

Aum also researched and developed some biological weapons.

Materials seized at the Aum facilities and other evidence confirms that the Aum had embarked upon an intense research and development program for the production of biological weapons. Judging from this evidence, Japanese authorities believe the Aum succeeded in producing botulinum toxin. The Japanese authorities are less certain but have serious concern that the Aum had also produced anthrax bacillus.

Both botulinum toxin and anthrax are viewed by experts as serious weapons of mass destruction. In a 1993 report of the Office of Technology Assessment, it is noted that botulinum toxin is a poison made by a bacterium, Clostridium botulinum. It is one of the most poisonous substances known to man. The fatal dose of botulism toxin by injection or inhalation is about 1 nanogram (a billionth of a gram) per kilogram of body weight. This means 70 nanograms of botulinum toxin could kill the average adult male. The toxin is also relatively fast-acting, producing death between 1 to 3 days in 80% of the victims. (See: Technologies Underlying Weapons of Mass Destruction, Office of Technology Assessment, 1993).

Anthrax is the name given to a severe illness caused by the bacterium Bacillus anthraxis. It is considered one of the prototypical biological-warfare agents. In nature, anthrax is primarily a disease of cattle and sheep but can also infect humans. It can survive for long periods of time in the soil in a dormant state. After infection, it reverts to an active phase in which it multiplies rapidly in the host body and secretes deadly toxins.

After inhalation into the lungs, anthrax spores travel to the lymph nodes of the chest, where they become active, multiplying and releasing three proteins that function as a potent toxin. This toxin results in uncontrollable hemorrhaging and fatal tissue damage. In addition to its lethality, anthrax has other characteristics that make it an attractive biowarfare agent. Most importantly, it is easy to produce. Seiichi Endo, Health and Welfare Minister for the cult, confessed that he had been working on developing biological weapons and was close to finalizing this effort before the Tokyo incident. He claims to have embarked upon this work under the specific directions of Asahara. Other Aum followers have also confessed to their involvement in the biological program at the cult’s Kamikuishiki compound.

In the compound, the police have found large amounts of equipment that is indispensable for cultivating bacteria and viruses. Also uncovered were large amounts of “peptone”, a substance used to cultivate bacteria, as well as books and materials on the production of botulism, cholera, and dysentery. The amount of peptone seized was phenomenal. Apparently there were 100-200 metal drums, each with an 18 liter capacity, of peptone seized at the Aum facilities. By comparison, university research classes use only about one liter of peptone per year. Thus, the Aum were expecting to propagate a huge quantity of bacteria.

It appears from official Japanese government material that the police determined that Seiichi Endo had produced an antibody for botulinus and was constructing a four-story concrete facility for further development of biological weapons at another Aum site in Naganohara. That facility was to be equipped with a so-called “clean room” with specialized ventilation systems and a sealed room for protecting cultivated bacteria from leaking. All of the materials recovered so far have been from ancillary buildings located on the Kamikuishiki site, not from the actual production facility.

The Aum had actually attempted to use bacterial warfare. A number of devices were found by Tokyo police that may have been intended to disperse anthrax. Three attache cases were discovered on March 15, 1995. They were found just five days before the Tokyo gas attack at the Kasumigaseki subway station in Tokyo. Each contained a small tank to hold an unknown liquid, a small motorized fan, a vent, and a battery. Unfortunately, none of the liquids were recovered for analysis. Experts said that these devices were crude dissemination devices for bacterial or chemical agents. A number of government sources state that the Aum had obtained at least two radio controlled drone aircraft.

The police suspected that the Aum dispersed anthrax bacilli at their Tokyo headquarters. This belief is based upon a confession by one of the former Aum members. The event occurred in June, 1993 and coincided with complaints from neighbors of a foul odor. The police report stated that the Aum’s Tokyo headquarters building seemed to have been equipped for bacteria production.

A number of press reports in late May of 1995 concerned the Aum’s interest in the Ebola virus. Members of the Aum sent a purported medical mission to Zaire in 1992 to assist in the treatment of Ebola victims. The press reports allege that the Aum was attempting to find a sample of the Ebola strain to bring back to Japan for culturing purposes. This is entirely believable in light of their confirmed and aggressive biological weapons program.

In support of these claims, in a December 1994 broadcast from Moscow, the Aum’s Health and Welfare Minister, Seichi Endo discussed the use of Ebola as a potential biological warfare agent. The Aum documents that in October of 1992 Asahara and 40 followers traveled to Zaire for “medical assistance” to that country.

In conclusion, it is obvious that Aum Shinrikyo is a great example of a formidable and capable revolutionary outfit that came from very humble beginnings to one day become a major threat. Such instances like this must be meticulously studied and analysed. There is much to learn and apply to our own struggle.

As proper guerillas we must be flexible. We must be willing and able to replace outdated methods with effective ones. This will likely not be the last we hear about AUM in our circles. It certainly shouldn’t. Few revolutionary groups have reached such consequential heights.

While it is very clear that their philosophical ideas are a bit out there, we are more focused on their tactics and not the group’s ideology itself. By doing this, we can form better revolutionary tactics and methods for our own struggle.

Special Thanks to Sarah Hightower for personally providing us with her rare research material on the subject.