Japanese Sect Goes Public With Defense

One member tries to explain use of lethal chemicals

FUMIHIRO JOYU, a spokesman for the Japanese sect that is suspected of complicity in last month's poison-gas attack in Tokyo, passionately defended his faith yesterday: ''The reason I joined Aum Shinri Kyo is that I was interested in something spiritual, something beyond [the] material.''

The boyish computer scientist, trained at one of Japan's best universities, summarized Buddhist teachings on the futility of trying to fulfill earthly desires. He said his meditations had given him a sense of ''spiritual ease, comfort, and relaxation.''

What he did not do, however, was provide any comforting explanations for the vast quantity of outwardly suspicious materials -- including the kind of chemical ingredients for the gas used in the attack -- that Japanese police have found in searches of the sect's facilities.

In a meeting with foreign reporters yesterday, Mr. Joyu denied that Aum Shinri Kyo -- or Supreme Truth -- was responsible for the attack or last week's assassination attempt against Takaji Kunimatsu, Japan's top law-enforcement official.

Speculation abounds

Authorities have not formally charged the group in either incident, but press reports say police want to interview the sect's leader and members of its ''Science and Technology Agency'' in connection with the chemicals discovered on Aum property. There is much public speculation about a connection between the gas attack and Mr. Kunimatsu's shooting.

''Aum Shinri Kyo is a Buddhist community,'' Joyu says. ''It is not such a violent group that would ... indiscriminately kill people or engage in terrorism.... The police are trying to accuse us falsely.''

The sect has added some accusations of its own to the mist of speculations and allegations that are obscuring any understanding of who is behind the recent terrorism. In television appearances over the weekend and at yesterday's press conference, Joyu suggested that a major Buddhist sect called Soka Gakkai, or Value Creation Society, is in league with state authorities to destroy his group.

Seeking other suspects

Soka Gakkai is another controversial group in Japan, since it was accused of using coercive tactics during proselytizing campaigns after the end of World War II in 1945 and itself accused authorities and the media of repression. Now its followers number about 8 million and effectively control a major political group, the Clean Government Party. Its name often crops up in conspiracy theories about who really runs this country.

Soka Gakkai has called the Aum accusations ''utterly ridiculous.''

Echoing similar evasions in television interviews, Joyu declined to describe exactly how the sect had been using certain chemicals found on its property.

''We are using these large amounts of medical chemicals or industrial materials -- not for military purposes at all -- but for only industrial purposes,'' he offered instead. ''We are making various kinds of commodities by ourselves.''

Aum Shinri Kyo's broad denials and counter-accusations are failing to impress even those who have called the police searches of Aum property legally indefensible. Makato Endo, a Tokyo lawyer who is a Buddhist and a critic of the police work in this case, says he still includes Aum on his personal list of possible culprits.

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