TOKYO (CNN) -- A courtroom outburst Friday by the cult
leader accused of masterminding last year's nerve gas attack
on Tokyo subways threw his murder trial into confusion. For
the first time, Shoko Asahara admitted responsibility for the
actions of his followers but he also declared his innocence
because he said he was not personally involved in carrying
out the crime.
Saying he had heard from God, Asahara also warned court-
appointed defense lawyers they would die if they continued
questioning former cult member and top aide, Yoshihiro Inoue,
who has confessed to the gassing and named Asahara as the
"Yoshihiro Inoue was formerly my disciple. He is also a man
of accomplishment. I would like to shoulder responsibility
for all incidents. So please stop questioning him," the
bearded Asahara said, apparently trying to protect Inoue who
was being cross-examined.
'Instructed by God'
"I was instructed by God in my detention cell this morning,"
said Asahara, 41, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.
It was the first time in the six-month trial that Asahara has
admitted to the sarin gas attack March of 1995, which killed
12 and made some 6,000 ill.
The trial immediately went into recess and, when it resumed
30 minutes later, Asahara made another surprising comment:
"Although I am completely innocent, I don't want to torment
the great soul of a man like Inoue," he said. "Please stop
A contradiction?, Not really
As contradictory as Asahara's statements may seem, they are
not, if put into the context of Japanese culture and its
idea of hierarchy.
A leader of a group or business is responsible for the
actions of his subordinates, even if he had nothing to do
with the act itself. In Asahara's case, he claims he is
innocent but says he is willing to shoulder the
Not a formal plea
Legal experts say Asahara's unexpected and confusing comments
won't go on the record as official confessions or pleas and
will have little impact on the trial's future proceedings.
He has refused to enter a formal plea. But scores of his
followers have testified in court in their own trials that he
ordered the gas attacks and other crimes.
Asahara, arrested in May 1995, has been indicted on 17
charges ranging from murder to illegal production of drugs
and weapons. He faces the death penalty by hanging if
His sect, called Aum Shinri Kyo (Supreme Truth), is a
doomsday cult that prosecutors say planned to bring down the
Japanese government with its attacks.
The trial is set to resume on November 7. A verdict is not
expected for many months.
Correspondent May Lee and Reuters contributed to this report.