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Japan Vows Severe Action If Sect Found behind Gassing on Subway

By Sam Jameson
Los Angeles Times
TOKYO

The government promised Monday to deal severely with the Aum Supreme Truth religious sect if the group was behind the poison gas attack on Tokyo's subways that killed 11 commuters and injured 5,500 others.

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said that the government would uphold the freedom of religious beliefs but vowed to the Budget Committee of the upper house of Parliament that any group "borrowing the name of religion to commit impermissible acts will be dealt with sternly."

Education Minister Kaoru Yosano went a step further, declaring that his ministry will go to court to seek the dissolution of the Supreme Truth sect if it is found to have committed the March 20 attack.

Both Murayama and Yosano also said they will study revising the law that empowers the government to designate organizations as religious bodies eligible for tax-exempt status. Yosano suggested that a requirement for openness in conducting activities might be added to the law.

Until police raided facilities of the Supreme Truth sect after the subway attack and discovered that the group had accumulated large quantities of dangerous chemicals, little was known about the group. It is led by Shoko Asahara, a bearded "master" who claims to be seeking to ensure the survival of Buddhism through an Armageddon he foresees.

The statements in Parliament came as the 14,000-member sect dispatched Fumihiro Joyu, its chief spokesman, to the Foreign Correspondents Club to appeal for overseas journalists' support against "government suppression."

Joyu predicted that police will be unable to prove the sect had produced poison gas. He charged that continuing police investigations of Supreme Truth facilities are part of a government plot to quash the sect.