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Japanese 747 Hijacked; Guru's Release Demanded : Crime: Self-proclaimed cult follower wielding ice pick hijacks All Nippon Airways domestic flight with 365 people aboard.


TOKYO — A Japanese domestic airliner was hijacked today by at least one man demanding the release of Shoko Asahara, the imprisoned leader of the Aum Supreme Truth cult accused of masterminding a deadly poison gas attack in the Tokyo subway system.

The plane, an All Nippon Airways Boeing 747 with 350 passengers and 15 crew members, landed safely on a scheduled flight from Tokyo to the northern city of Hakodate and was parked on a runway.

One hijacker, who said his name was Saburo Kobayashi, claimed to be a Supreme Truth member. But the cult denied any involvement.

The hijacker demanded that the plane be refueled and flown back to Tokyo, authorities said. He also demanded that he be given binoculars.

The man initiated the hijacking by threatening to stab a female flight attendant with an ice pick, authorities said. The hijacker then gained access to the cockpit, where a flight engineer was reported to have been tied up.

The airplane pilot was quoted as saying that the hijacker claimed to have a plastic bomb on the plane and an accomplice in the passenger section. The hijacker threatened to start a timing device on the bomb unless refueling was carried out soon, news agencies reported.

An airline spokesman in Tokyo said authorities had not confirmed that the hijacker had explosives.

Home Affairs Minister Hiromu Nonaka, who also is chief of the National Public Safety Commission, initially told a news conference that he would not grant the request for the plane to be refueled.

However, the hijacker soon threatened "tough action" if the plane was not refueled soon, NHK television reported.

A live broadcast on NHK later showed a fuel truck approaching the airplane and workers appeared to be starting to refuel it.

The hijacker in the cockpit demanded that no other vehicles approach the plane.

A Japan Defense Agency spokesman said 40 experts in defense against chemical weapons and 200 troops were headed toward the airport as a precaution.

The pilot and co-pilot could be seen in the cockpit on live television and appeared calm.

The plane was hijacked shortly before noon over Yamagata prefecture, about halfway along its 425-mile route, police said.

It landed at Hakodate, on the northern island of Hokkaido, at 12:40 p.m.

Airline spokesman Hiromi Nishimoto said there was no word on any injuries to passengers or the crew.

Hijackings are extremely rare in Japan. The last hijacking on a domestic flight was 16 years ago.

The March 20 poison gas attack in the Tokyo subway system killed 12 people and afflicted more than 5,500. Supreme Truth members have also been accused of other crimes ranging from kidnaping to murder and other gassing incidents.

Authorities believe the cult, with about 10,000 followers in Japan, was preparing for a string of guerrilla attacks against Japan's government and urban areas, in part to fulfill Asahara's apocalyptic prophecies.

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