A Japanese court has sentenced to death the chemist who helped lead terrorist
attacks that killed at least 20 people and injured thousands in 1994 and 1995.
The judgment against the senior member of the Aum Shinrikyo terrorist cult comes
after an eight-year trial.
Japanese prosecutors said 39-year-old Masami Tsuchiya was the second most
important figure involved in the gas attacks by the Aum Shinrikyo cult, after
cult leader Shoko Asahara himself.
Tsuchiya, a chemist by training, headed the cult's drive to develop an arsenal
of chemical weapons, including VX, mustard and sarin gases. The cult's aim
was to spark an "Armageddon" in Japan by using the chemicals against an unsuspecting
The most serious of the charges concerned two separate attacks with sarin
nerve gas. The first took place in 1994 in Matsumoto, 220 kilometers west of
Tokyo, killing seven people and sickening hundreds.
The second and more spectacular was the coordinated release of sarin by several
cult members in 1995, during rush hour in the Tokyo subway system. Twelve people
died in that attack, and thousands were injured.
The cult killed at least one other person with gas in yet another attack.
The presiding judge, Satoru Hattori, ruled that Tsuchiya's crimes were premeditated
and carried out with murderous intent. He said the cult would not have been
able to carry out the attacks without Tsuchiya's direction.
It is not clear whether Tsuchiya, who often praised cult leader Asahara during
his trial, plans to appeal. Ten other cult members sentenced to death before
Tsuchiya's trial have appealed.
In Japan, death row prisoners whose sentences are upheld are not told their
fate until the day of execution. Death sentences in Japan are carried out by
The trials of Tsuchiya and other senior Aum leaders have dragged on for years
because of legal maneuvering by the defense and long lists of criminal charges
involving huge quantities of evidence and testimony.
The verdict in Mr. Asahara's own seven-year trial is expected in late February.
Prosecutors have also asked for the death penalty in his case.