Aum Shinrikyo

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Aum Shinrikyo (オウム真理教) is a religious movement in Japan. It is often referred to as a cult, but it originally began as a meditation group before slowly becoming a religious organization. The religious movement has been linked to several terrorist activities, including the Sarin Gas Attack in Tokyo, the assassination of Tsutsumi Sakamoto, the Sarin attack in Matsumoto, and several other terrorist activities.

In 2003, the group changed its name to “Aleph,” based on the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The group is not associated with Judaism in any way.



“Aum” was established in 1987 in Shibuya by Shoko Asahara during a Yoga medication class. It started as a group, not a religious organization, but gained religious affiliation in 1989. It quickly began posting branch offices across Tokyo and Japan, and often tried to recruit college students. They also have branches in Russia, Sri Lanka, and in 2004 a branch opened up in New York.

Because the religion started as nothing more as a meditation group, at first its activities were very low key. But Asahara, in an attempt to try to recruit more individuals massively transformed the group, often releasing widely controversial statements and trying to get their religion well known in the mainstream.

Aleph members have met with several world leaders, including the 14th Dalai Lama. They also continue to try to reach new members by creating Manga and Anime to help their religion appeal to younger individuals.

Terrorist Activities

When the group was failing to get noticed, it started manufacturing Sarin gas. By 1993, they had already produced some of the gas and by 1994 they had begun testing it on sheep to relative success. They began using the gas in several different assassinations before releasing the gas in Matsumoto, killing seven and harming over 200. Despite the domestic terrorism, the group was not looked at as one of the possible perpetrators of the gas incident.

In 1995, the group kidnapped one of the siblings of a member that escaped. When the Japanese government decided to raid the group in March of 1995, Aum Shinrikyo members attacked 5 local trains in Tokyo at what became known as the Sarin Gas Incident. 12 People were killed, and over 500 were sick or injured, and although the plan was originally designed to divert attention from the police plans on raiding the group, over 150 members were arrested.

After the Sarin Gas Incident

Most of the senior members, including its founder, were arrested following the subway attacks. Shoko Asahara was sentenced to death and many other senior members were found and arrested. Raids against the group found a variety of other chemical weapons including Anthrax and Ebola, some of which had apparently been sold to other countries.

Although most senior members were arrested, the terrorism was not over. Police found what is known as a “Cyanide Bomb” in a burning paper bag that had the potential to kill over 20,000 commuters had it not been found in time. Still, the organization went bankrupt in 1996 and was put on several terrorist watch lists which limited their overall activities considerably.

By March 1995 there were 15,000 members. As of February 2003, that number was reduced to only 1251.


Since their bankruptcy, and the changing of their name to “Aleph,” the group has continued to exist (with approximately 1500 members) but has cut its terrorism ties by a wide margin and continues to practice its religious beliefs.

Religious Affiliation

Aleph is a combination of several religions. While it is primarily influenced by Yoga, there are aspects of Christianity and Buddhism as well that have influenced its views

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