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TOKYO-The head of a Japanese doomsday cult responsible for deadly gas attacks in the 1990s was executed on Friday, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Asahara, 63, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, was the first to be hanged from the 13 cult members now on death row, for their roles in a number of fatal crimes carried out by the cult. He was among 13 people placed on death row in connection with the string of crimes perpetrated by the doomsday cult.

Twelve other members of Aum Shinrikyo were sentenced to death for their roles in the 1995 attack.

Japan's justice minister, who approved the hangings Tuesday, said she doesn't take executions lightly but felt these were justified because of the unprecedented seriousness of the crimes the seven committed. "Now, I can pay a visit to her grave and tell her of this".

The agency said it searched a total of 16 facilities of three groups across Japan on Friday, including those of the cult's successor Aleph and the Hikarinowa, or the Circle of Rainbow splinter group launched by former AUM spokesman Fumihiro Joyu.

Six more cult members are still on death row, according to the Associated Press. "However, the death penalty is never the answer", said Hiroka Shoji, East Asia Researcher at Amnesty International. It is unclear whether they were also executed this week.

Born Chizuo Matsumoto in 1955 on the southwestern island of Kyushu, Asahara changed his name in the 1980s, when the Aum cult was being developed.

Even before the attack, in 1989, lawyer Tsutsumi Sakamoto, who opposed the cult, his wife and baby boy were murdered by cult members.

The five cultists who carried bags of sarin onto the trains targeted three subway lines converging at Kasumigaseki, Japan's government and political center similar equivalent to Washington's Capitol Hill.

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At Aum's peak in 1995, the number of members exceeded 10,000, but now only about 1,650 members belong to the groups that originated from Aum.

At a sheep farm in rural Western Australia and other properties, cult scientists began testing sarin while others synthesized the VX nerve agent and launched a failed attempt to manufacture automatic rifles.

He was sentenced to death after a lengthy prosecution during which he regularly delivered rambling and incoherent monologues in English and Japanese.

Asahara was 63 years old.

Cult members have said they believed Asahara's prophesy that an apocalypse was coming and they alone would survive it.

The cult claimed 10,000 members in Japan and 30,000 in Russian Federation.

13 people died in the attack, and more than 6,000 were made sick.

A riot police officer stands guard outside the Aum Shinrikyo cult headquarters 6th compound as the raids continued on 11 May 1995, searching for the mastermind behind the attacks.


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