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aka A.I.C. Comprehensive Research Institute; A.I.C. Sogo Kenkyusho; Aleph; Aum Supreme Truth
Description: Aum Shinrikyo (AUM) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 8, 1997. Jailed leader Shoko Asahara established AUM in 1987, and the organization received legal status in Japan as a religious entity in 1989. The Japanese government revoked its recognition of AUM as a religious organization following AUM’s deadly 1995 sarin gas attack in Tokyo. Despite claims of renunciation of violence and Asahara’s teachings, members of the group continue to adhere to the violent and apocalyptic teachings of its founder.
Activities: In March 1995, AUM members simultaneously released the chemical nerve agent sarin on several Tokyo subway trains, killing 12 people and causing up to 6,000 to seek medical treatment. Subsequent investigations by the Japanese government revealed the group was responsible for other mysterious chemical incidents in Japan in 1994, including a sarin gas attack on a residential neighborhood in Matsumoto that killed seven and hospitalized approximately 500. Japanese police arrested Asahara in May 1995; in February 2004, authorities sentenced him to death for his role in the 1995 attacks. In September 2006, Asahara lost his final appeal against the death penalty and the Japanese Supreme Court upheld the decision in October 2007. In 2010 and 2011, several death sentences for other AUM senior members were finalized or affirmed by Japanese courts. In 2012, the final three AUM fugitives were arrested after 17 years on the run.
Since 1997, the group has split into two factions, both of which have recruited new members, engaged in commercial enterprises, and acquired property. In July 2001, Russian authorities arrested a group of Russian AUM followers who had planned to detonate bombs near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo as part of an operation to free Asahara from jail and smuggle him to Russia. In August 2012, a Japan Airlines flight to the United States was turned back after receiving a bomb threat demanding the release of Asahara.
Though AUM has not conducted a terrorist attack since 1995, concerns remain regarding its continued adherence to the violent teachings of Asahara.
Strength: According to a study by the Japanese government issued in December 2009, AUM membership in Japan is approximately 1,500 with another 200 in Russia. In 2012, it is believed that AUM recruited approximately 255 new members. As of December 2012, AUM continues to maintain at least 29 facilities in 15 prefectures in Japan and may continue to possess a few facilities in Russia. At the time of the Tokyo subway attack, the group claimed to have as many as 40,000 members worldwide, including 9,000 in Japan and 30,000 members in Russia.
Location/Area of Operation: AUM’s principal membership is located in Japan; a residual branch of about 200 followers live in Russia.
Funding and External Aid: Funding primarily comes from member contributions.