On March 20, 1995, Japan experienced the country's worst act of modern terrorism. It was domestic terrorism carried out by the religious cult Aum Shinrikyo. Members of the doomsday group released sarin gas on the Tokyo Metro, killing thirteen and injuring thousands more.
Ten male Aum Shinrikyo members carried out the attack: five of them released the gas, while five drove the get-away cars. The cult's leader, Shoko Asahara, went into hiding, but was captured later that spring. He, along with other key members, were rounded up and sentenced to death. Today, they still sit on death row. Nearly 200 other members were arrested in connection to the attack and sentenced to prison.
The authorities didn't catch all the perpetrators. For over sixteen years, three of them were on the lam. And today in Tokyo, police arrested the last Aum fugitive, Katsuya Takahashi, who was reading comic books this morning while the entire country looked for him. And he almost got away. Yet again.
For years, wanted photos of Makoto Hirata, Naoko Kikuchi, and Katsuya Takahashi were posted in every post office and nearly every train station in the entire country. Yet, these three former Aum Shinrikyo members evaded capture. They vanished and were on the run so long that the mere idea of their capture seemed unbelievable. The fugitives appeared to exist only on the wanted posters that plastered their mugs across the nation.
Late last December, when one of the fugitives, Makoto Hirata, turned himself in, the Tokyo police station thought it was a joke. It was New Year's Eve 2011, and when Hirata, who was wanted in the kidnapping and killing of a bureaucrat, went to a Tokyo police station, the on duty officer turned him away, not believing him. Hirata tried again, but was once again turned away, so he went to another police station, where he was finally arrested.
The second fugitive, Naoko Kikuchi, was arrested early last week. Kikuchi allegedly helped mix the sarin gas, and a tip led authorities to her in Kanagawa Prefecture. She admitted to mixing the sarin, but told authorities she did not know what it was. After her arrest, police learned that she had previously lived with Katsuya Takahashi while on the lam. Both posed as a married couple. Police now are investigating how these fugitives could evade capture so long, how they got new aliases, and whether or not they received financial support.
Kikuchi's capture lead to new information about Takahashi, and the police closed in on the last sarin attack fugitive. Takahashi, like Kikuchi, was living under an alias and had re-entered Japanese society. Takahashi was using the name "Shinya Sakurai" and living in Kawasaki, where he worked for a construction company. Police raided his apartment on Monday, but missed him by hours. Takahashi had already fled, and footage of him withdrawing large amounts of cash from his bank was broadcasted all over the evening news.
Fliers showing Takahashi as he now looked were passed out at stations in Tokyo. Police thought that Takahashi might have escaped into the mountains, but as of this morning, he was in Tokyo at a comic book cafe. Called "manga kissa" (漫画喫茶 or "manga cafe"), these establishments offer manga, magazines, internet, video games, and often, free soda. You pay for a block of time, and then you can just hang out in the cafe and flip through comics or surf the web. Business people use them as a place to crash after missing the last train. Criminals use them as a place to disappear in.
The story circulating in the media is that the police received a tip this morning that Takahashi was at a comic book cafe in Tokyo. Once they arrived on the scene, police asked the man if he was Katsuya Takahashi. He said he was, and police arrested him. That's true; however, according to the Nippon News Network, Takahashi almost got away.
"At 6:09am this morning, this customer came, and I think he kind of looked like Takahashi," a staffer at the manga kissa told NNN. "He read comic books and he read the newspaper. Because he seemed totally normal, I thought maybe it wasn't him."
Police showed up at around 9am, and one officer said, "We've got a report that Takahashi has been here for the past two days." The staffer said, "There's a suspicious guy here now. Could you check to see if it's Takahashi?" The officer took a look at Takahashi and said, "It looks like him, but it's not. You, you're mistaken."
As the officer said this and as he once overed Takahashi, the suspect appeared like he was getting ready to leave. The police, just to make sure, approached him as he exited the shop. When they asked him if he was Katsuya Takahashi, the 54 year-old replied that he was, thus ending one of the longest manhunts in modern Japanese history and ending it at a comic book cafe.
(Top photo: ちいぽこちゃん | Twitter/Shizuo Kambayashi/Tsugufumi Matsumoto | AP)