A fugitive former member of the doomsday cult that released deadly sarin gas on the Tokyo subway turned himself in after 17 years in an act that could delay the execution of the group's leader.
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Makoto Hirata, 46, one of Japan's most wanted men, walked into Marunouchi police station in central Tokyo at 11.50pm on New Year's Eve, apparently telling officers he wanted to "put the past behind him".

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 after being sentenced to hang.

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, Hirata's voluntary arrest could now put them on hold again as convicted cult members may be needed as witnesses in his trial.

Hirata's face had been on "Wanted" posters plastered at train stations for years and the timing of his surrender led to speculation over his motive.

He walked into the police station carrying just a travel pack with necessities and a few hundred dollars in Japanese currency.

© The Associated Press
A car carrying Makoto Hirata, a member of Aum Shinrikyo leaves a police station in Tokyo under heavy security
He is not accused of participating directly in the sarin gas attack but was wanted over the kidnapping and death of a man weeks before the attack.

The victim, Kiyoshi Kariya, 68, was the brother of a follower who had left the group. Hirata and other cult members were said to have taken him off a Tokyo street and 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 inside the commune, police said.

Hirata, who joined the cult in the late 1980s, reportedly told police he did drive Mr Kariya to the group's base but that he was not involved in the death. He is also suspected of involvement in the 1995 near fatal shooting of a senior police chief.

Aum Shinrikyo, which has been translated as "Supreme Truth," was founded in 1984 by Asahara, a nearly blind yoga teacher, and included elements garnered from Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.

Asahara variously declared himself a reincarnation of Christ, claimed the British Royal Family was conspiring against him, and that the world would end in 1997 following a war started by the United States. In 1995 the apocalyptic cult was estimated to have had 10,000 followers in Japan and another 30,000 in Russia.