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TOKYO POLICE READY TO CHARGE CULT IN GAS ATTACK

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After the largest criminal investigation in Japanese history, police are ready to charge the leaders of the cult suspected in the Tokyo subway gas attack with murder, a newspaper reported Thursday.

Police are preparing to request arrest warrants for Shoko Asa-hara, the leader of the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, and leaders of the cult's chemical research and production team, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said.A Tokyo Metropolitan Police spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the report, which cited unnamed police sources.

So far police have not publicly accused Asahara or cult followers with releasing the nerve gas sarin in the Tokyo subways March 20. Twelve people died in the attack and 5,500 others were left with symptoms such as partial blindness, bleeding and seizures.

The Yomiuri said police now believe Asahara and the scientists can be charged with murder because specially made bags used to hold the nerve gas in the attack are identical to those manufactured by the cult.

More than 150 other cult members have been arrested, although all on relatively minor charges.

Cult leaders have denied any involvement in the sarin attack or in the near-fatal shooting of the head of the National Police Agency March 30.

Earlier this week, another national newspaper reported that police have found the 40-year-old Asahara hiding at a cult facility.