Japan trial of Tokyo sarin attack cult member begins

File photo: Makoto Hirata Mr Hirata was part of the cult which carried out the Tokyo subway sarin attack

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The trial of a former member of Japan's Aum Shinrikyo cult has begun, nearly 20 years after the group carried out a deadly sarin gas attack in Tokyo.

Makoto Hirata is being tried over the abduction and death of a 68-year-old man, notary Kiyoshi Kariya.

He is not facing charges in connection with the subway attack in 1995, which killed 13 people.

Mr Hirata walked into a police station and gave himself up two years ago, after being on the run.

Thirteen other members of the cult have been sentenced to death.

Mr Hirata, 48, is accused of abducting a man whose sister was trying to leave the cult.

The man later died after being given an injection at Aum's main commune at the foot of Mount Fuji.

He said he did not intend to abduct the lawyer, Kyodo news agency reports.

"It took a long time for this day to come, and I apologise for causing great trouble to the victim, his family and society," Mr Hirata was quoted as saying by Kyodo.

Aum Shinrikyo began as a spiritual group mixing Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, but became a paranoid doomsday cult obsessed with Armageddon.

Some 189 Aum cultists have been put on trial over the various attacks carried out by the cult, and 13 members, including leader Shoko Asahara, have been sentenced to death.

If convicted, Mr Hirata could face the death penalty, says the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Tokyo.

Some of the cult members sentenced to death will be appearing as witnesses at Mr Hirata's trial, reports say.

For that reason, the Japanese authorities have delayed carrying out any death sentences until all the trials are over, our correspondent adds.

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