The Staggering Number Of People Killed Or Injured By The Aum Shinrikyo Cult

By their very nature, cults tend to be insular organizations. Within them, exploitative and charismatic leaders shield their vulnerable followers from the outside world to better control the narratives of their lives and to wield greater power over them. As such, when things go wrong, the violence explodes inwardly. Examples include the Jonestown Massacre in 1978 in which 918 followers of cult leader Jim Jones committed suicide or were killed, as well as the mass suicide of the members of the Heaven's Gate cult in 1997.

Sometimes the fringe ideas that underpin cults propel them to confront the outside world. The 1993 Waco Siege, a gun battle fought by U.S. federal agents and Texas rangers against the armed followers of David Koresh — leader of Christian cult the Branch Davidians — resulted in the deaths of four federal agents, more than 80 of Koresh's followers, and Koresh himself. But one of the most sickening attacks committed by members of a cult occurred two years later on the other side of the globe in Tokyo, Japan, when a group calling themselves Aum Shinrikyo (which translates as "supreme truth," per the BBC) killed 13 people in a gas attack that left 5,800 other innocent people injured.

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Aum Shinrikyo's deadly apocalyptic beliefs

Aum Shinrikyo and their leader, Shoko Asahara (pictured above), were apparently motivated by a twisted belief: that the end of the world was coming, and that those outside the cult were bound for hell ... unless they were murdered by its followers. The BBC quotes the Japan Times in describing the cult's attack on thousands of innocent Toyko commuters with sarin gas — a deadly nerve agent — as their "holy attempt to elevate the doomed souls of this world to a higher spiritual stage." The cult is also believed to have been responsible for previous sarin gas attacks on Japan before 1995.

Shoko Asahara was among 13 members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult who were sentenced to death following the attack. They were hanged to death in 2018, according to CBS. Despite the atrocity and the long-lasting trauma that the attack caused the people of Japan, the Aum Shinrikyo cult was never formally banned in the country, and the cult still boasts some 1,500 members.