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Aum Shinrikyo In Pursuit Of Nuclear Weapons – Analysis

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Aum Shinrikyo has an apocalyptic belief structure where the world is divided into two opposing forces, good and evil. Shoko Asahara, who is leader of the cult, firmly believes that they will prevail after the apocalypse and are motivated to trigger the apocalypse because their own salvation depends upon fighting the final fight and eliminating the enemy. The prospect of nuclear war shaped Shoko Asahara’s concerns to preach that Aum followers would be the only survivors of a coming Armageddon.

It has been reported that Asahara’s obsession with nuclear weapons formed the foundation for all of his actions related to these weapons. He published several ‘symposia’ during his time as leader in which he made statements about surviving a nuclear holocaust. Peaceful and nonviolent tactics were used by Asahara to gain power. The key tactic was preaching enlightenment through yoga and meditation. He transformed these views following Aum’s weak performance in the 1990 Japanese general election. Shortly after this political failure, Asahara began viewing Japanese and Western society as the enemy and advocated pursuing violent means to bring about Armageddon.

Poster of wanted Aum members in Japan
Poster of wanted Aum members in Japan

More broadly, Asahara believed that Japan and Japanese were doomed and that a nuclear war between the U.S. and Japan would trigger Armageddon. He forecasted that in 1996 the United States would strike Japan with nuclear warheads loaded with atomic or hydrogen bombs. Aum’s internal structure mirrored the Japanese government because the cult planned to takeover Japan following Armageddon.

Aum recruited Scientists

Aum Shinrikyo recruited approximately 300 scientists with degrees in medicine, biochemistry, biology, and genetic engineering. The fear of nuclear war and the qualified followers along with their academic specialties might have driven Aum toward chemical and biological, rather than nuclear weapons.

According to nuclear weapons builder Carson Mark, a nuclear weapons team would at a minimum require a nuclear scientist, a mechanical engineer, an electrical engineer, and an explosives expert.

Many Aum scientists graduated from some of Japan’s best schools. Although they typically were not leaders in their fields, it seems as if Aum gave them a chance for their careers. Aum tempted scientists by promising unlimited funds and the opportunity to conduct original research.

Indeed, Aum made quite handsome offers to these individuals who were lacking opportunities to conduct their own research and writing. One Aum scientist said he joined because he had anxiety fuelled by fears of nuclear war. He also said he saw images of a big bomb being dropped on a megalopolis and thought it looked familiar. He combined this fear with an attitude of hatred for Tokyo, and, as a result, he wished for such destruction to occur.

Aum with roots in Russian elite

Asahara led a delegation to Russia in 1992 to meet with former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoy and former speaker Russian Parliament Khasbulatov. Head of Russian Security Council Oleg Lobov assisted Asahara and gave him a large building in Moscow. Oleg Lobov was interested in opening a Russia-Japan university in Moscow, but the absence of funds hindered his way until he met Asahara.

Lobov reportedly received between $1-500,000 million from Aum, although Russian officials had denyed that they assisted Aum in any way. Later, U.S. Senate investigators discovered photos in Aum publications that showed Rutskoy, Khasbulatov, Basov, and Lobov with Asahara. Lobov also admitted that he met with Aum members, and claimed that he was not warned by Russian Intelligence Services to stay away from Aum.

These connections facilitated Aum to access the black market and various materials and hardware, including formulae for the production of chemical weapons. Aum hoped to use these contacts to obtain sensitive military technologies.

There were rumours that Russian intelligence might have helped Aum acquire military technologies in an attempt to acquire scientific and technical data that Aum had stolen from Japanese research centres.

Aum targeted the Kurchatov Institute, for expertise and technology because it reportedly possessed hundreds of kilograms of weapons-usable uranium. According to U.S. congressional investigators, the cult recruited at least two Russian nuclear scientists and approached Russian science officials to obtain laser and nuclear technologies. Asahara held talks with Nikolai Basov, a Nobel Prize winner for physics. Aum also approached the Russian Nuclear Energy Minister, but the Minister declined to meet with Aum’s Moscow branch.

Aum in Australia

Aum also launched a scheme of exploring the uranium mines in Australia. Asahara might have believed that Australia would be unaffected by Armageddon and that is the sole reason he wanted to establish a permanent facility there.

Aum bought a sheep farm at Banjawarn in 1993 as a place to test chemical weapons and mine uranium. Asahara also brought 25 people to Australia in 1993 to live at Banjawarn Station with excess luggage that contained equipment for mining uranium. Two sect members were fined for carrying dangerous goods on an airplane, but were released. They bought mineral exploration licenses to ensure that no one else could enter the property to prospect for minerals.

They also formed two Aum companies – Mahaposya Australia Pvt Ltd and Clarity Investments Pty Ltd – as front businesses to cover up their true activities and with the passage of time these companies became the actual holders of the mineral licenses.

The cult reportedly found little uranium and after that Aum met with an Australian geologist on September 1993 and discussed the possibility of exporting uranium ore from Australia to Japan via ship.

Nuclear knowledge through internet

Internet has been a vital source of information since its birth. Terrorist organizations like Aum with educated members can easily access the nuclear knowledge to further chase their objective.

Aum reportedly hacked into classified computer networks to obtain information about nuclear facilities in Russia, Ukraine, and the People’s Republic of China, South Korea, and Taiwan during 2000. Aum members were able to acquire information about a Russia commissioned device for plutonium processing, the Monju fast breeder reactor in Japan, and the safety system of Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

Around 75 researchers were discovered who were working on radioactive materials and other nuclear related studies – along with some other materials – were found in the raids indicated that Aum members measured radioactivity levels at a cult compound in Japan in 1988. Responding to these discoveries Aum claimed that the group had no intention of conducting nuclear terrorism and that it collected the information in order to know how to respond to accidents at nuclear power plants.

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Muhammad Jawad Hashmi

Mr. MJ Hashmi is M.Phil in Defence and Strategic Studies. He is an Author of a book entitled as “Nuclear Terrorism in Pakistan: Myth of Reality?” His Area of interest is Nuclear Terrorism, Nuclear Safety and Security issues in Pakistan, Arms Control and Disarmament, Nuclear Non-Proliferation. He can be reached at [email protected]

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