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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City Set to Combat Metro Gas Threat

Police planned to double the number of officers patrolling the metro Friday, responding to a reported threat by a member of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult to release nerve gas in the Moscow metro on the third anniversary of its deadly attack on Tokyo's subway.

The several thousand uniformed officers and plainclothes detectives will be joined by dozens of dogs trying to detect any sign of poison gas, said Colonel Mikhail Lutsek, acting chief of metro police.

A man identifying himself as a cult member called the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper Sunday and threatened to disperse gas at 11 metro stations within the circle line Friday, the daily reported.

The caller demanded the immediate release of the doomsday cult's leader, Shoko Asahara, who is on trial in Tokyo. His followers released sarin, a nerve gas developed by the Nazis, in the Tokyo subway March 20, 1995. Twelve people were killed and thousands were sickened.

Most of the Russian news media, however, played down or ignored the reported threat. The Federal Security Service also did not appear to take it seriously.

City metro officials, though, said they had no choice but to take precautions.

"Their [the cult members'] job is to organize such attacks, and our job is to repel them," Nikolai Novikov, chief of the Moscow metro's civil defense unit, said in a telephone interview Thursday.

It was unclear what actions could be taken in the event of a poison gas attack. Lutsek said no gas masks were stored in the metro for passengers' use. The Moscow subway is one of the world's busiest, with 9 million riders daily.

In Japan, police have arrested hundreds of cult members, and Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth, was forced to disband.

But Japan's police say the cult still claims 2,000 members in 20 branches throughout the country.

The Russian branch, which reportedly had enjoyed warm relations with several top Russian officials, was forced to close down in 1995. Several of the Russian branch's prominent members stood trial in Moscow but were found innocent.

The Federal Security Service, which investigated the cult's activities in Russia, said it would do its part to help keep the metro safe, but did not appear worried about a possible attack Friday.

Andrei Kostromin, a spokesman for the agency's directorate for Moscow and the surrounding region, said the security service had no evidence the cult was currently doing anything illegal.

"We have nothing against them," he said.

The directorate's chief spokesman, Sergei Bogdanov, was quoted by Interfax on Thursday as saying the security service did not plan to switch to "emergency mode."

Izvestia, however, reported in last Friday's issue that the cult had been storing poisonous gas on Saratovskaya Ulitsa in southeastern Moscow, but that the canisters had been moved.

The caller to Komsomolskaya Pravda claimed that cult members already had dispersed some gas in the metro as a "trial balloon," claiming responsibility for a sharp odor detected by many passengers at the Arbatskaya metro station Saturday.

Metro officials denied that any poisonous gas attack took place.

"Tests on samples of air revealed no contents of any such gas," said Lutsek, the police chief.

Both he and Novikov said the sharp smell was probably caused by sewage, although the exact origin has not been determined.

Lutsek said sewage odors regularly get sucked into the metro's ventilation systems, alarming some passengers.

Another possible source of odd smells are bonfires that Muscovites light every spring to burn dead leaves and grass.

"We have two to three cases like that every spring," Lutsek said.