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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan Hears of Cult's Deathly World

TOKYO -- A cult guru fed sweet rice cakes and juice to disciples after they carried out last year's Tokyo subway gas attack and said the killings would win them heavenly blessing, prosecutors charged Thursday.

In the second day of a trial that has riveted the nation, prosecutors laid out their case against guru Shoko Asahara, whose Aum Shinrikyo cult is accused of the March 1995 attack that killed 12 and sickened thousands.

Prosecutors said in a 99-page opening statement that Asahara ruled his apocalyptic cult with an iron hand and once quietly listened to the screams of a member being strangled on his orders.

Asahara, who allegedly told followers that murder on his orders was good for them and their victims, faces charges in a series of killings and kidnappings in addition to the subway attack. On Wednesday, he refused to make a plea to the accusations against him.

The guru ordered the subway attack "to set off massive confusion in the Tokyo area" and divert the attention of police he believed were planning a raid on his cult, prosecutors said in a statement read in court Thursday morning.

After the nerve gas killings, Asahara praised followers who carried out the crime when they reported back to him, and he welcomed them with sweet rice cakes and juice, the prosecution's statement said.

The document quoted the guru as telling the disciples: "Meditate. And chant ten thousand times the phrase, 'This is good, with the blessing of the guru, the great god Shiva and all the victors of truth."'

Shiva is the Hindu god of creation and destruction. Cult dogma included a combination of elements of Buddhism and Hinduism.

In accusing Asahara of ordering the strangulation of a wayward follower, prosecutors said the cult leader had preached that his commands were akin to the word of god.

"If a guru orders murder, that person ... has already reached a time to die," they quoted Asahara as telling his followers.

The prosecutors' statements also detailed the cult's production of sarin nerve gas and illegal drugs; the logistics of the subway assault; Asahara's personal background; and the guru's total control over his disciples.

If convicted, Asahara, 41, could face death by hanging. The trial is expected to take years, with most sessions separated by weeks or months. The next session is scheduled for May 23.