TOKYO — In what could mark a major breakthrough, Japanese police today arrested Yoshihiro Inoue, the cult Aum Supreme Truth's elusive intelligence chief, who is believed to have masterminded kidnapings, firebombings and the poison gas attack on Tokyo's subways.
The arrest of Inoue, 25, appears to clear the way for police to nab the group's guru, Shoko Asahara. Although the Japanese press has reported for days that Asahara's arrest--tagged here as "X-Day"--could come as soon as today, police reportedly were worried that Inoue would counteract with a new poison gas attack or other violence.
Inoue, the target of an intense national manhunt, was arrested on charges related to a kidnaping rather than the terrorist gas attack March 20. But according to several confessions of arrested cult members that began to leak out over the weekend, Inoue masterminded the subway attack, which killed 12 people and sickened more than 5,500.
In a key piece of circumstantial evidence, police have seized notes in Inoue's handwriting detailing the timetables and passenger loads of the three subway lines hit by the gas attack.
He was arrested just before dawn after being stopped for a routine check at a roadblock in Tokyo, and was charged with obstruction of justice when he resisted arrest. He had dyed his hair brown and shaved his beard and was carrying a false license, but police identified him by his fingerprints, the Japanese media reported.
In other developments, an unnamed cult member has confessed that he brought a vinyl bag of the deadly nerve gas sarin into the subway on the day of the attack, according to the Yomiuri and Asahi newspapers.
The confession reportedly has allowed police to positively label the subway attack an organized act of terrorism, which they believe was carried out by 10 people in the subways and 10 others who manufactured the material.
Masami Tsuchiya, head of the group's "chemical squad," has reportedly confessed to police that he made sarin--the gas developed by the Nazis that is suspected in the attack--four or five times and that he gave it all to an unnamed cult official just before the subway incident. Tsuchiya said, however, that he did not know what had been done with the poisonous brew.
His confession has spurred police to redouble efforts to locate any missing sarin and raised fears that a new round of poisonings could occur if they arrest Asahara. The blind and bearded guru is believed to be hiding with his family in the group's headquarters at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
Seiichi Endo, the head of the "Welfare Ministry," also reportedly confessed that he was involved in making sarin.
Unlike other top cult leaders, Inoue did not boast an elite university pedigree and dropped out of college after several months. But he was swiftly promoted to head the group's critical "Intelligence Ministry" because of his religious fervor and absolute loyalty to Asahara. He had told friends that he would even kill his parents if Asahara ordered him to do so, according to Japanese TV reports.
The Kyoto native, intense and thin, joined the group as a high school junior in 1988 after suffering a serious injury in martial arts two years earlier, and was reportedly healed by Asahara. A zealous devotee, he would meditate in the lotus position in hallways during class breaks and was so effective in persuading others to join--including his mother--that he became known as the "mini-Asahara."
But he has been linked to several of the cult's alleged acts of violence: the abductions of a hotel owner, a notary public and the daughter of a cult member; the bombings of a religious scholar's residence and the cult's own headquarters to make it appear victimized; the theft of driver's license records, and falsification of corporate documents.