TOKYO — A former member of Japan’s Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult, which was responsible for the 1995 nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway, was arrested Sunday after almost 17 years on the run, police said. Makoto Hirata, 46, turned himself into a police station in central Tokyo just 10 minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve, according to media reports. He was held on suspicion of taking part in a plot to kidnap and confine a brother of an Aum follower who had escaped from the cult in February 1995, a month before the attack, a Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department spokesman said. The victim, who was 68, died from tracheal obstruction a day later when he was given an injection at Aum’s main commune at the foot of Mount Fuji, the official said.
“Hirata was arrested on suspicion of abduction and confinement resulting in death,” he said. The crime is punishable by at least two years in prison. “I want to give myself a sense of closure after so many years passed,” Hirata told investigators, according to the reports. “I only drove a car,” he added about his role in the plot which was, according to police, led by Aum guru Shoko Asahara. He was one of three Aum members who went into hiding after the sarin attack in March 1995, which killed 13 people and injured thousands. Naoko Kikuchi, 40, and Katsuya Takahashi, 53, are still at large. Hirata, known to be skilled in shooting, is also suspected of being involved in a sniper attack in 1995 on the then national police chief who survived it, the reports said. Hirata joined the cult in 1984 after graduating from university and was mainly tasked with guarding Asahara, a near-blind yoga master who attracted some 10,000 followers at the height of his popularity. Asahara preached a blend of Buddhist and Hindu dogma mixed with apocalyptic visions, and developed an obsession with sarin gas, becoming paranoid that his enemies would attack him with it. The cult wanted to disrupt police’s move to crack down on it and throw the capital area into confusion to enact the guru’s image of an apocalyptic war, according to prosecutors. Sixteen people were arrested for the attack, with 13 of them, including Asahara, sentenced to death.