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Profiling the Events of Aum Shinrikyo in 1995
For an event to be considered as an act of terrorism, it must involve a player that conspires to use violence instrumentally to advance a political, ideological, or religious goal (Tucker). In 1995, a bioterrorism event transpired throughout the cities of Matsumoto and Tokyo in Japan. A religious cult by the name of Aum Shinrikyo attempted to realize an apocalyptic prophecy by seizing control of the Japanese government. Biological and chemical weapons were used in an assassination campaign in which more than 20 people were killed and over 1000 were injured. Among the agents used were anthrax, botulinum toxin, Q fever Ebola virus, sarin, VX, and hydrogen cyanide (Tucker).
As of January 31, 1999, the Monterey Institute database, also known as the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project, contained 415 incidents, both domestic and international (Tucker).
Although bioterrorism is a relatively rare occurrence, events such as this one have been on the rise in recent history and it is important to consider all factors that lead up to them and are a result of them (Bureau of Emergency Preparedness and Response). When analyzing an act of bioterrorism, it is vital to understand the motivational factors associated with the actions that take place.
In the case of Aum Shinrikyo, it has been reported that influencers included a charismatic leader, apocalyptic ideology, defensive aggression, and a general sense of paranoia by the group (Tucker).
Although the members of Aum Shinrikyo had assets in wealth and scientific expertise, they had failed in 10 separate occasions to carry out premeditated attacks (Tucker). This tells us that even with motivation present, it is hard for terrorist groups to carry out attacks. The inability to carry out events can be associated with a large amount of hoaxes and low amount of actual attacks. Those who have the motivation to make a stand do not necessarily wish to, or have the capability to, execute the task at hand. For the purposes of management and prevention, one can gather from this that the focus of prevention and preparedness protocols should be on understanding and dealing with motivational factors.
In an ideal world, professionals take time out to understand the psychological profile of groups, raise awareness of their message, infiltrate dangerous groups, and would be able to do this.
It is understood that the desired public perception of Aum Shinrikyo is that of a group known as the ‘Supreme Truth Sect’ that focuses on positive thinking, achieving goals and improving levels of intelligence (Olson). However, a murder, which took place in 1989 reinforced accusations of relations with the Japanese mafia, assassinations, extortion, deception and use of force on cult members by recruits (Olson). After being linked to multiple bioterrorist attacks, lawsuits and much controversy, the group has attained a negative public perception.
Biodefense is a concept, which involves medical measures such as medicines and vaccinations as well as medical research and preparations to defend against attacks (US National Library of Medicine). However, while some focus on research and preparation for new bioterrorist attacks, cult leaders are still holding seminars and actively recruiting new members, soliciting donations, and conducting a training (Olson). As of today, 50 seminars a month are conducted in offices throughout Japan and the 700 fully committed devotees are growing (Olson). It is important to prepare but it is just as important to prevent. This means that the focus should be on understanding the psychological profile of the group and finding a means of communication, which can be beneficial to both sides.