TOKYO -- The police have found evidence that may link the Aum Shinri Kyo religious sect to the poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway system on Monday, the Kyodo News Agency reported today.
While the sect has frequently been mentioned in connection with the attack on five subway cars, the police have not formally said that the sect's leaders are suspects or that they have found any evidence tying them to the attack.
Kyodo's dispatch did not describe the evidence that may link Aum to the subway attack, in which 10 people died and more than 5,000 were injured. But it said the police had found that the chemical fingerprint of the nerve gas sarin used in the subway attack was identical to those of two previous cases in which sarin was apparently used.
One of those cases was an incident last July in which small amounts of a toxic chemical were released near the Aum training center in Kamiku Ishiki, a village near Mount Fuji.
No one was hurt, but traces of byproducts of sarin were discovered on the ground nearby.
The other apparent release of sarin occurred last June in the city of Matsumoto in central Japan. A mist of sarin suddenly wafted through a neighborhood one evening, killing seven people and injuring about 200.
The police never made any arrests in that case, and some analysts have suggested that it was a test use of sarin by terrorists.
The neighborhood that was struck by the cloud of sarin in Matsumoto included a building housing several judges who were hearing a case about a land dispute involving Aum Shinri Kyo. The judge who was to write the opinion in the case was admitted to a hospital, and as a result the case was postponed and has not yet been decided.
Aum and its guru, Shoko Asahara, have vigorously denied that they ever made sarin. They have said that the discovery of sarin byproducts near their property demonstrates that they have been attacked by U.S. military planes dropping sarin on them.
Mr. Asahara has also suggested that the Tokyo subway attack was orchestrated by the Japanese government in an effort to frame the sect.
A search of Aum sites continued today, with the police carting off hundreds of drums containing chemicals that can be used to make nerve gas. By some counts the police have found more than 150 tons of chemicals that can be used to make sarin and another nerve gas, tabun.
Mr. Asahara does not dispute that the sect possessed the chemicals, but he says they were used to make pottery and computer chips rather than nerve gas.
It is unclear where Mr. Asahara is now. He apparently left the Aum training center on Tuesday, heading for Tokyo, and his convoy of cars turned up Friday at the Century Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo's Shinjuku District. The hotel denied that he was staying there, and the cars' drivers refused to say anything to reporters. Today the cars, apparently with only the drivers inside, left Tokyo and drove to Nagano prefecture in central Japan.
Some Japanese journalists suspect that the police have by now located Mr. Asahara and are keeping him under close surveillance.
Others disagree, saying that they have learned that the central police authorities have quietly called on local police to keep a lookout for Mr. Asahara and his deputies.