Mass raids, arrests target followers of Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult in Russia
The raids targeted the homes and places of worship of suspected cultists of Aum Shinrikyo, a doomsday religion that is banned in Russia.
“During the searches, we found and seized ritual items and electronic media. In addition, we discovered addresses of several more active participants of the cult – 11 in Moscow and 14 in St. Petersburg,” Irina Volk, an official representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs said on Tuesday.
Police also found books related to cult’s teachings in several of the apartments. Ten people were detained in the St. Petersburg raids, according to the TASS news agency.
Russian prosecutors say the cult has been actively recruiting and pressuring people for donations. They suspect it has up to 30,000 followers in Russia.
The prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into the group’s activities which “involve violence against citizens and injury to their health.”
The organizers of this association pressured their victims physically and psychologically, to make them submit donations and their property [to the cult],” Vladimir Markin, Head of the press-service of Russia’s Investigative Committee, has said.
The Russian Interior Ministry, along with representatives of Interpol, is also investigating the activities of 44 citizens recently deported to Russia by Montenegrin authorities.
On March 26 a group of 60 alleged Aum cultists were detained in Montenegro during raids in Danilovgrad, central Montenegro, and in capital Podgorica, after authorities received a report that “a certain number of foreign citizens, linked to a foreign closed religious group and possibly involved in international organized crime” were in the country illegally.
According to local press reports, the Aum Shinrikyo cultists were holding a conference in Montenegro at the time.
During the raids, police seized several thousand euros in cash and electronic devices, which were taken for forensic analysis. After interrogation, the detainees however were released, with no charges filed against them, but as their stay in Montenegro has not been officially registered, they were deported – the majority of them to Russia and other CIS countries.
Aum Shinrikyo is an infamous Japanese doomsday cult considered a terrorist organization and outlawed in many countries, including Russia. In 1995, members of the group carried out a terror attack where they released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway. Twelve people were killed and more than 5,000 were severely poisoned, with about 1,000 of them suffering from temporary visual impairment. Some 189 Aum cultists have been put on trial in Japan. The cult’s leader, Shoko Asahara, was sentenced to death in 2004 and remains on death row alongside 12 other cultists.