JAPANESE POLICE ARREST MAN THOUGHT TO BE FINAL SUSPECT IN '95 SUBWAY ATTACK
Kyodo News, via Associated Press Katsuya Takahashi, a former member of the doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, was taken to Tokyo's police department on Friday.
By HIROKO TABUCHI Published: June 16, 2012
TOKYO - Japanese police on Friday arrested the man thought to be the final suspect from the doomsday cult behind a 1995 deadly poison gas attack on Tokyo's subways, at last bringing to an end a 17-year-old manhunt.
The man, Katsuya Takahashi, 54, had been one of Japan's most wanted fugitives for the role that authorities say he played in the nerve gas poisoning on the crowded subway system here that killed 13 people and sickened thousands of others.
Investigators arrested Mr. Takahashi as he left an Internet cafe in central Tokyo after receiving a tip that a man resembling the fugitive had been spotted there, according to the public broadcaster NHK. Mr. Takahashi faces charges of murder.
Friday's arrest brings to a close a long search for suspects behind the 1995 subway attack and a string of other acts of violence by the doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo, that terrified a public unaccustomed to violent crime or terrorism.
Five cult members have received life sentences for their roles in the attacks and 13 have been sentenced to death, including the mastermind, the blind cult leader Chizuo Matsumoto, more commonly known as Shoko Asahara.
Mr. Takahashi's arrest came less than two weeks after Naoko Kikuchi, who is suspected of being an accomplice, was taken into custody in a Tokyo suburb. The police said that information gathered during her arrest, as well as more than 1,700 tips from the public on Mr. Takahashi's whereabouts since then, had put investigators on Mr. Takahashi's trail.
"We believe that information led to today's arrest," Naomasa Yoshida, head of criminal investigations at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, said at a news conference after the arrest. "We are deeply thankful to the citizens of Tokyo and of Japan for their support and cooperation," he said. A banner at the top of the department's Web site announced Mr. Takahashi's arrest, together with a message of thanks.
Mr. Takahashi and Ms. Kikuchi had managed to elude the authorities for 17 years, though their photographs appeared on wanted posters across Japan. The manhunt appeared to gain momentum after another member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult wanted in connection with the attack, Makoto Hirata, turned himself in to the police five months ago.
Mr. Takahashi is thought to have used an alias as he lived in several apartments and hotels in Yokohama and Kawasaki, just outside Tokyo. He most recently worked at a construction company in Kawasaki, according to local news reports, but took leave after Ms. Kikuchi's arrest this month. Shortly after that arrest, security cameras at a bank in Kawasaki captured an image of a man thought to be Mr. Takahashi as he withdrew a large amount of money.
The police then stepped up their manhunt, assigning 170 special investigators to the case and at one point dispatching about 5,000 police officers to stake out major train stations, according to the local media. To urge members of the public to come forward with sightings, the police also released a dozen photos and four video clips thought to be of Mr. Takahashi as he sought to evade capture.
Investigators told local media that Mr. Takahashi is thought to have sought refuge in manga and Internet cafes that typically rent out small cubicles and are open around the clock.
On Friday morning, police officers finally swooped in on Mr. Takahashi as he left the Internet cafe where he had been sighted. He did not try to resist arrest and calmly confirmed his identity, local media said. Local reporters soon overwhelmed the area as media helicopters circled overhead.
Mr. Takahashi is accused of driving a cult member to the subway station, which served Tokyo's central government offices, during the morning rush hour on March 20, 1995. There, he and other cult members released deadly sarin gas from plastic bags in an attack that they believed would start an apocalyptic battle with the government.
Mr. Takahashi also faces charges linked to the kidnapping and death of a public servant in Tokyo, as well as another gas attack on a car parking lot operator, both of whom had tried to help cult members leave the organization. At one point, police offered a reward of about $127,000 for information leading to Mr. Takahashi's capture.
According to local media reports, Mr. Takahashi, a native of Yokohama, joined Aum Shinrikyo in 1987, the year it was founded by Mr. Asahara. He at one point served as the leader's personal bodyguard before being assigned to the cult's espionage division.
Ms. Kikuchi has told investigators that she and Mr. Takahashi and were on the run together until 2006, according to media reports. He had advised her to keep to big cities, where they had a better chance of blending in with the crowds, she said.