The Use of Chemical Weapons in the Tokyo Subway Attack
Japan has long enjoyed the enviable reputation of being one of the safest nations in the world. The country has one of the world lowest rates for murder and other violent crime, and the Japanese National Police Agency and local Police forces are often praised as a model of law enforcement efficiency. Tokyo enjoys one of the cleanest, safest and most efficient subway networks in the world. Trains run on precise schedules and accommodate 2.7 billion passengers a year. All that changed on March 20, 1995. A nightmare unfolded as the city of Tokyo experienced one of the worst terrorist attacks of the century. This is what many considered to be the first true case of use of chemical agents by terrorists in a major attack on civilians.
On the morning of 20 March 1995, small containers described by eyewitnesses as being wrapped in newspaper and covered with clear plastic bags about the size of lunch box were placed on five trains running on three major lines of the Tokyo subway system (Marunouchi, Chiyoda, and Hibiya). The trains were scheduled to arrive at the Kasumigaseki station within four minutes of each other at the height of the morning rush hour around 8 am in the morning. It was to report later that police authorities suspected the containers to be a type of binary chemical weapons in which the constituent elements of sarin were brought together to form the poisonous gas just prior to its release by breaking of the bottles in the crowed cars. The results were twelve people dead and over five thousand injured, as gas spread through the trains and affected passengers were disgorged at sixteenth separate stations along the route. Two of the subway lines were shut down and twenty-six stations closed.
The station, towards which the cars were gathering, Kasumigaseki was located in the heart of Tokyo’s government area, which is close to many Ministries, and the National Police Agency (NPA) Headquarters. Some commentators began to think that the attack was targeted on NPA officers. Some commentators evidently anticipated that the Tokyo attack was a prelude to the issuing of demands by the criminal. Commentators also expressed surprise that, given the toxicity of sarin and the nature of the target, the casualty had not in fact been much higher. Others suggested that the agent may simply have been impure, perhaps deliberately diluted either self-protection of the attackers or to keep the number of fatalities low. This theory appeared confirmed by the discovery early on the traces of another substance, acetonitrile (or methyl cyanide), which it could have been used to dilute the gas.
Some Unexplained Incidents:
In the days following the subway attack, as the casualty toll continued to rise, the Amu Shinri Kyo (or “Supreme Truth”), whose leader- Shoko Asahara, had in the past shown an interested in chemical and biological warfare. Two days after the attack, large numbers of police...