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July 28, 2017

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Japan nabs final suspect in '95 subway attack

TOKYO -- Police on Friday arrested the last fugitive suspected in a doomsday cult's deadly nerve gas attack on Tokyo subways 17 years ago, ending one of Japan's longest manhunts and closing a chapter on the worst terrorist attack in the country's history.

Katsuya Takahashi, the former bodyguard for the Aum Shinrikyo cult leader, was tracked down at a comic-book cafe in downtown Tokyo. He admitted who he was when approached by police.

Takahashi had been on Japan's most wanted list for years for his suspected role in the sarin gas attack on Tokyo subways that killed 13 people and injured about 6,000 in 1995, shattering Japan's long-held sense of safety.

According to media reports, he worked for a construction company and avoided capture for years by using a fake name, wearing a surgical mask on the job and seeking assignments that didn't involve meeting people.

His trail had been cold for years, but it heated up after the June 3 arrest of another fugitive from the cult, Naoko Kikuchi, who reportedly lived with Takahashi for a time and had information about him. Thousands of officers hunted for Takahashi across the capital, handing out fresh photos of the suspect and monitoring transportation hubs to keep him from escaping.

Takahashi disappeared from his job after Kikuchi's arrest, but an employee at the comic book cafe where he was arrested told a TV talk show Friday that he had visited the shop several times recently.

A cafe employee recognized Takahashi and called police, a Tokyo police spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity, citing department rules. Police arrested Takahashi on suspicion of murder, she said.

TV footage showed a huge crowd outside the cafe, trying to catch a glimpse of the last cult fugitive. Public broadcaster NHK showed a thin, bespectacled Takahashi being pushed into a police car.

The 54-year-old's appearance has changed greatly — in particular, his trademark bushy eyebrows have become much thinner. So police had to wait while his fingerprints were verified. He was arrested after being taken to a nearby police station, then transferred to Tokyo police headquarters for interrogation, police said.

The manhunt was one of the longest ever in Japan. Nobuko Shigenobu, a former Red Army extremist, was on the run for 26 years from 1974 until her arrest in 2000.

The Aum cult had amassed an arsenal of chemical, biological and conventional weapons in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with the government.

Masaki Kito, a lawyer and a longtime Aum watcher, said Takahashi's arrest and investigation could provide a fuller picture of the Aum cult's crimes.

"The case has never been fully resolved," Kito said in one of the TV talk shows that were dominated by news of Takahashi's arrest Friday. "He was a last piece of a jigsaw puzzle."

Nearly 200 cult members have been convicted in the 1995 attack and dozens of other crimes. Thirteen, including cult guru Shoko Asahara, are on death row.

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