A fugitive former member of the doomsday cult that released deadly sarin gas on the Tokyo subway has turned himself in after 17 years in an act that could delay the execution of the group's leader.
Makoto Hirata (46), one of Japan's most wanted men, walked into Marunouchi police station in Tokyo at 11.50pm on New Year's Eve, apparently telling officers he wanted to "put the past behind him".
Mr Hirata was one of three members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult still being sought over the sarin attack on March 20, 1995, which killed 13 people and injured more than 6,000. It remains Japan's deadliest act of domestic terrorism.
Nearly 200 people associated with the cult have since been convicted of offences including murder, abduction and producing nerve gas. Thirteen of those, including cult founder and leader Shoko Asahara (56), are on death row.
In November, the country's supreme court rejected a final plea for clemency from Seiichi Endo (51), the 13th person to be sentenced to death. The other death-row prisoners had been kept alive until the conclusion of Endo's appeal. Its failure appeared to clear the way for all the executions to be carried out.
However, Mr Hirata's voluntary arrest could now put them on hold again as convicted cult members may be needed as witnesses in his trial.
The timing of Mr Hirata's surrender led to speculation over his motive.
He is not accused of participating directly in the sarin gas attack but was wanted over the kidnapping and death in 1995 of Kiyoshi Kariya (68), the brother of a follower who had left the group. Mr Hirata and other cult members were said to have confined him at the cult's tightly guarded commune at the foot of Mount Fuji.
They allegedly used anaesthetics as a "truth serum" to get him to talk about his sister. Mr Kariya died from a drug overdose and cult members burned his body in an incinerator, police said.
Mr Hirata is also suspected of involvement in the 1995 shooting of a senior police officer. (© Daily Telegraph, London)