martes, 19 de mayo de 2020

Terrorism in Japan. The Sarin Gas Attacks on the Tokyo Subway

Columnist Alejandro Díaz Castro.
Profesional en Relaciones Internacionales y Ciencia Política
Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Bogotá D.C.

(Ver otras publicaciones del autor)

Abstract: This essay will discuss how the sarin gas attack was managed as a wicked problem in Japan, analyzing some aspects; first one, with a time line the actions that were taken will be described. Second one, the counter-terrorism actions and crisis evaluation will be evaluated. At the end, the strategies and the practices that were adopted by actors involved will be analyzed answering questions such as what actions were taken by the actors involved? What was the goal of these actions? And how did this contribute (or not) to managing the safety or security challenge? To understand better these, the essay will be written in chronological order; firstly, an introduction about the topic will be done by explaining the details and studying the case. After that, the importance of studying this topic will be written to continue with academic literature which confirms the facts and ending with a conclusion an recommendations about the topic. | Key Words: Terrorism, counter-terrorism, wicked problem, communication crisis, Japan, doomsday.

Before tackling the attack and the way that it was managed, it is important to analyze, and understand how the events happened that day. “On the morning of March 20, 1995, members of a “doomsday” cult released sarin gas, a neurotoxic agent, in the Tokyo subway system, killing twelve people and causing more than five thousand people to seek medical care” (Bridges, 2005:103). The modus operandi used by the terrorist group had such as principal actors Ikuo Hayashi in Chiyoda train line, Kenishi Hirose in Marunouchi train line, Toru Toyada in Marunouchi train line, Masato Yokohama in Hibiya train line, and Yasuo Hayashi in Hibiya train line.

The mission that was charged of doing by the group’s leader was to take with them the sarin gas camouflaged into a newspaper in a liquid status wrapped in plastic bags, and leave them chipped inside of the train in a peak hour before getting off. After getting off, the gas started to suffocate the passengers meanwhile the terrorists were picked up by their accomplice Tomomitsu Niimi, Koichi kitamura, Katsuya Takahashi, Kiyotaka Tonozaki, Shigeo Sugimoto.

Fortunately, the Sarin that was prepared was just 30 percent pure lower than the one that was used in the Matsumoto attack which explains why there were not many people killed due to the gas. However, this act can be considered as one violation of the security which “is defined as the condition of being protected from harm (or other non-desirable outcomes) caused by intentional human actions or behaviors” (Bibi van den Berg, 2012: 6).

Nonetheless one of the most important things to analyze in this essay is the measurements that were taken by the government and the different actors involved in this issue starting for the counter-terrorism actions and the crisis evaluation before, after, and during the crisis.

1. The counter-terrorism actions before, during, and after

Before the sarin attack on March 20, 1995, two cases were linked to the cult which developed this attack. The cases, however, were not well investigated, and for that reason, the police did not notice that the group was a hazard for the society.

The first case was the murder of a follower of the cult leader Shōkō Asahara who forced a girl to practice an air yoga which was extremely advanced for her finishing in her death, the issue was hidden by the cult due to bad publicity that it could bring, and the body was cremated.

The second case was the murder of a family after the sarin attack appeared in Shōkō Asahara property, but the police did not want to search in that area even though one of the clues conduced to the cult leader since the beginning. The family murder happened due to information that the father had obtained from the cult where he could have proved that a girl had died in the Asahara monastery. Because of his blindness, charisma, and the excuse of being a religious person many people believe wrongly that Shōkō Asahara was not a risk for the society, and that he could not be linked to these issues.

During the attack, not much can be said because no one could have predicted the day, the hour, the train lines, the method among others that could have been used. Nevertheless, some people assert that avoiding the attack before it happened is much better than trying to avoid an attack during the moment that this is executing.

Finally, after the attack, there were some mistakes one of them was that as many, if not most, disasters, victims self-transported to nearby treatment facilities. For many victims of the Tokyo sarin gas attacks this was St. Luke’s Medical Center (Taneda, 2005). Some surviving victims drove themselves or walked to nearby treatment facilities (DoJ, 2002). The problems arising from this self-transfer phenomenon are serious and complex. Without a pre-hospital triage system, such as Simple Triage and Rapid Transport (START), seriously injured victims who need immediate care might not get the timely and appropriate treatment (Hafen, Karren, & Mistrovich, 1992). For that reason, there were a lot of people who went walking to the hospital and it was impossible to determine the level of their injuries. Increasing in that way the number of people who were at risk to die.

However, not all actions that were taken put in risk the citizens of Japan; for instance, chasing, capturing, and executing had a specific goal that will be analyzed here because it is remarkable the way that after the attack the police decided to act, the first actions were conducted to capture and dismantle the organization which attacks the country’s security. The second actions were able to send a message to similar, and also the same organization which committed the acts by executing the authors and people involved in the terrorist attack.

In this way, the government stops the circle that Alex Schmid describes as a part of a terrorist attack in which the perpetrators try to manipulate the population and the government to obtain attention, intimidate or demand something to them as it can be said here.

“The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperiled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought".

Now that we have discussed the goal of the police actions it is important to analyze how the action contributes to managing this situation. For example, by executing the leader and the perpetrators were the way that the government communicates to them that the criminal acts will not be accepted. Furthermore, the organization disappeared due to the lack of a charismatic leader and they have not done more attacks hitherto. Thanks to the previous actions the society can enjoy a peaceful environment knowing that if a criminal tries to damage citizens, organizations, or institutions, they will be punished in a severe way to contribute to the safety and security of japan citizens.

Nonetheless, there are similar organizations which have been followed by the authorities, there are some religious cults that are evaluated, checked frequently by the police to avoid that they follow the doctrine of the previous groups, creating chemical weapons, biological weapons or planning to attack the society. Creating control over them and their activities.


One the one hand, it is important to say that the actions to prevent terrorism in Japan could have and should have improved to prevent this unfortunate event. The police actions, however, were well executed, and it could be reflected in nowadays japan’s society where they have not had a similar incident since that day.

On the other hand, the terrorist group which attacked previously the city left a lot of followers who have created similar organizations around Japan. These religious groups which claim that they are not linked with the terrorist issue are increasing the police duties due to the regular inspections that the force has to do to prevent future terrorist acts.


Even though the regular inspections are increasing the police duties, it is necessary to continue doing them to avoid having future events out of control. Moreover, the efforts in the prevention of terrorism as a counter-terrorism measure should be increased, and likewise, religious groups should be taken into account as a possible hazard for the society as the fourth wave of terrorism suggests and studies.

Moreover, the crisis management should be trained to avoid getting into terrorism game in which a lack of communication can create an advantage for these groups because of an empowered society with a correct government communication will be able to overcome and avoid a situation such as the one that we discussed in this essay or a similar one.


Bibi van den Berg & Pauline Hutten. (2005). Security and safety: An introduction. 2020, de Institute of Security and Global Affairs Sitio web:

Channel news Asia. (February 2020). Tokyo’s Fateful Sarin Gas Attack in 1995 | One Day That Changed Asia | Full Episode. 2020, de CNA Insider Sitio web:

Department of Justice (DoJ). (2002). Arlington County After-action Report on the September 11 Terrorist Attach on the Pentagon. Prepared by Titan Systems Corporation. Contract Number G310F0084K, order number 2001F_341.

Elizabeth Bridges. (2005). The Sarin Gas Attacks on the Tokyo Subway? 10 years later/Lessons Learned. Traumatology, 11, 103-119.

Hafen, B., Karren, K., & Mistrovich, J. (1992). Pre hospital Emergency Care. Brady Prentice Hall: NJ, 798-801.

Schmid and Jongman (1998). Political Terrorism: A New Guide To Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories, And Literature. Switzerland: Transaction Publishers.

Taneda. (2005). The sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system: Hospital response to mass casualties. Traumatology, 11(2).

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