- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2000

TOKYO A Japanese court sentenced two former leaders of a doomsday sect to death yesterday for spraying nerve gas in a deadly 1995 attack on the Tokyo subways.

Toru Toyoda, 32, and Kenichi Hirose, 36, were accused of taking a direct role in the morning rush-hour assault, which killed 12 persons and sickened thousands of others, the Tokyo District Court said.

The two were members of the Aum Shinri Kyo sect. The sect's former guru, Shoko Asahara, is on trial for masterminding the subway attack and other crimes, including an earlier nerve-gas attack in central Japan.

Shigeo Sugimoto, 41, who worked as a driver for the sect, was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the subway attack.

The three admitted to their crimes, but argued during their trial that they had been brainwashed by Mr. Asahara, Kyodo News Agency reported.

Two other members convicted of taking a direct role in the 1995 attack, Masato Yokoyama and Yasuo Hayashi, have also been sentenced to death.

In Japan, the sentence is carried out by hanging, though it may be years before any Aum member is actually executed. Japan's legal system is notoriously slow and executes only a handful of people a year after all appeals have been exhausted.

The three sentenced yesterday were also accused of other crimes. Toyoda was charged with attempting to kill a former Tokyo governor by mailing a parcel bomb to City Hall in May 1995, Kyodo reported.

Toyoda, Hirose and Mr. Asahara are also accused of planning to manufacture 1,000 automatic rifles modeled on the Russian-made AK-47 between 1994 and 1995. They succeeded in producing one rifle, the report said.

Sugimoto was accused of conspiring with Mr. Asahara and other Aum members to kill two Aum followers in 1994, Kyodo said.

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