March 20, 1995 | Sarin Attacks in Tokyo

Japan may be the last place we normally associate with terrorism but when it does occur, boy is it big!

TOKYO, JAPAN — When I was with CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) I was regularly sent to meetings of the G7/G8 (when Russia was still part of the forum) to represent Canada in the counter terrorism subgroup. In all honesty, these gatherings were not too useful as we would only talk at an unclassified level and as a result the presentations by the various national delegations were hit and miss.

Image result for japanese flag
Japan is the ‘land of the rising sun’: sunrise is associated with optimism!

On the ‘miss’ side were clearly those from the Japanese team. I used to think that this was due largely to a language barrier: we all spoke in English even if only three parties (Canada, the UK, and the US) were anglophone. I began to realise however, that there was another factor: the Japanese had little to say.

You see, Japan is rarely afflicted with terrorism. Even the acts by the Japanese Red Army, featured in an earlier Today in Terrorism piece, were minor in scale. This is of course a very good problem to have. Which country, after all, wants MORE rather than LESS terrorism?

Victims of the 1995 attack being treated by a nurse
Photo: AFP
1995 Sarin Attacks in Tokyo

But when Japan did wake up to a terrorist attack it was of a catastrophic nature. On this day in 1995 chemical substances were released on the Tokyo metro. Sarin gas was the catalyst: it is an odourless, colourless liquid which is highly lethal and is listed as a chemical weapon. Packages left on the subway began to leak, creating toxic fumes that in the end killed 13 people and injured more that a thousand. The toxin struck victims down in a matter of seconds, leaving them choking and vomiting, some blinded and paralysed.

The group behind the attack was called Aum Shinrikyo ( “supreme truth”), which began in the 1980s as a spiritual group mixing Hindu and Buddhist beliefs and later added elements of apocalyptic Christian prophesies. It was led by a cult leader named Shoko Asahara who had declared himself to be both Christ and the first “enlightened one” since Buddha. The cult was also accused of several other murders and an earlier Sarin gas attack in 1994 which killed eight and left 600 injured.

On this day in 1995, Sarin (an odourless, colourless liquid which is highly lethal) was released on the Tokyo metro killing 13 people and injured more that a thousand.

In July 2018 the last members of the cult who planned the attack were executed in Japan: the death penalty is rare in that country. Aum Shinrikyo went underground after the 1995 attack, but did not disappear completely, renaming itself Aleph or Hikari no Wa.

Chemical or biological weapons attacks are rare for a good reason: they are hard to carry out successfully (see my piece in Homeland Security Today on this). But when they do occur they are terrifying.

Let’s hope terrorists NEVER master this technology.

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