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Cult figure stabbed to death in Tokyo suspect held


TOKYO -- A top official of the religious sect suspected in last month's subway nerve gas attack was fatally stabbed in the stomach last night as he walked through a phalanx of television cameras outside the sect's offices.

The victim, Hideo Murai, chief of the sect's "Science and Technology Agency," collapsed and was taken to a hospital. The doctors who operated on Mr. Murai, 36, had told reporters that he lost large amounts of blood and suffered damage to his liver and kidneys. He died early today, several hours after surgery, officials said.

Plainclothes police who were keeping the sect's offices under surveillance immediately arrested a man in the attack. His identification cards indicated that his name was Hiroyuki Jo, a South Korean national living in Japan, and he described himself to police as a rightist.

The sect, Aum Shinrikyo, is the leading suspect in the subway attack, which killed 12 people and injured more than 5,500. It is also suspected in several kidnappings and the shooting of the chief of Japan's National Police Agency last month.

Mr. Murai, who often appeared on television to deny any wrongdoing by the sect, was himself expected to be arrested in the coming days in connection with the sect's suspected production of nerve gas.

His stabbing was filmed by many of the camera crews and replayed repeatedly on television. The incident seems likely to add to the feelings of insecurity that have gripped Japan since the subway attack, feelings that have already intensified after two unexplained incidents in Yokohama last week in which dozens of people were taken to the hospital after complaining of poisonous fumes at a train station and at a department store.

In the television pictures last night, Mr. Murai is shown walking on the sidewalk toward the offices of Aum Shinrikyo, through a crowd of about 75 reporters, and then suddenly the man identified as Jo is seen lunging toward him.

Mr. Murai then pauses and lifts his left arm, looking with a puzzled expression at the blood on it. A moment later he collapses. The assailant stands a few paces away, drops a large kitchen knife on the ground, and seems to wait to be arrested.

The Kyodo News Agency reported last night that police had decided to seek arrest warrants for about 20 officials of the sect on suspicion that they were preparing to commit murder by producing nerve gas. Kyodo did not say when police would make the arrests.

Police have found what they believe is a computer-controlled factory for producing large quantities of nerve gas in the sect's buildings. They have also found hundreds of tons of chemicals used to make nerve gas, as well as some chemical substances that are said to be produced only in the process of making the gas.

Mr. Murai worked at Kobe Steel Co. for four years before leaving to join Aum Shinrikyo. As head of the sect's science unit, he was one of its most influential figures and presumably would have played a major role in any effort to produce nerve gas.

Mr. Jo, the suspected assailant, joined a rightist group in Mie Prefecture last year, Japanese television reported.

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