Russia Detains Dozens of Suspected Members of Japanese Doomsday Cult

Russian police detained over 40 alleged members of the Aum Shinrikyo sect.

Police have detained 44 people across the two cities, searching more than 20 addresses connected with the group, a Russian Interior ministry statement said. Video of the raids broadcast on state Russian TV showed Russian SWAT teams searching apartments, with the alleged sect-members lying on the ground.

It was unclear whether today’s arrests were linked to the deportations, though a video apparently from the raids and broadcast on the pro-Kremlin channel NTV, which has close links to the security services, seemed to show at least one of the detained acknowledging he had traveled to Montenegro.

Aum Shinrikyo became hugely popular in Russia in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a period when apocalyptic cults briefly thrived -- by some estimates the group at one point had 30,000 followers in Russia, with a prime-time Moscow TV show and holding mass rallies.

The group’s leadership once focused on Russia as the key to unleashing an apocalyptic nuclear war, which they believed would bring them to power. During the early 1990s, Aum Shinrikyo leaders made considerable efforts to acquire a Russian nuclear weapon, and sought to recruit senior Russian officials and scientists, including the head of the country’s security council, whom they persuaded to help them open a Moscow headquarters. But after the 1995 attacks, Russia’s government moved swiftly to outlaw the group and shut down its cells.

Today, police said they had seized literature and other ritual items related to the cult. The group deported from Montenegro had been holding their conference around the time of the anniversary of the March 20, 1995, Tokyo attack.