Japanese police have detained a man suspected to be the last remaining fugitive of the Aum Shinrikyo cult that carried out the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in which 12 people died and nearly 6,000 fell sick, media reports citing officials said on Friday.
Japanese broadcaster NHK reported that the detained man has admitted that he is Katsuya Takahashi. According to local media reports, police plan to formally arrest him once his identity is confirmed.
The suspect was taken into custody near a comic book cafe in Tokyo, nearly 17 years after the gas attack. A massive hunt, involving thousands of officers, was launched in and around Tokyo last week after the suspect fled his home.
Information about his whereabouts was given to the police by forty-year-old Naoko Kikuchi, another suspect who was arrested two weeks ago. She was taken into custody from Sagamihara city, west of Tokyo, on June 3.
Kikuchi is said to have stayed in various hotels and apartments with other senior members of the cult for several months after the terror attack. She also lived in a condominium in Saitama prefecture, north of Tokyo, with Takahashi in late 1996, but police lost track of them after that.
Police had released updated likenesses of Kikuchi and Takahashi in February and raised the reward for tip-offs to nearly $130,000 after one of the last three fugitives, Makoto Hirata, was arrested in January. Hirata surrendered voluntarily on New Year's eve, after nearly 17 years on the run.
Information provided by Kikuchi after her arrest led the police to a construction firm in Kawasaki, where Takahashi was working under an assumed name. Although Takahashi fled his room in the company's dormitory before the police could detain him, the raiding officers managed to recover one of his recent photographs from the room.
Police reportedly received a tip-off from an unnamed citizen after the recovered photo, along with a CCTV footage of Takahashi withdrawing money from his bank account, was released to the public last week.
Thirteen of the nearly 200 Aum Shinrikyo members were convicted so far over the gas attack and other crimes were currently awaiting execution, including cult leader Shoko Asahara. If the suspect arrested on Friday is confirmed to be Takahashi, it would mark the end of the more than 17-year-long search for the perpetrators of the sarin gas attack.
Although Aum Shinrikyo began in the 1980s as a spiritual group based on a mix of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, it later transformed itself into a paranoid cult obsessed with Armageddon. The cult has since been revived as the Aleph group and continues to operate as a spiritual organization.
by RTT Staff Writer
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