RUSSIAN authorities mounted a major operation across Moscow and St. Petersburg that targeted followers of the infamous Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo, raiding 25 premises and seizing cult paraphernalia.
The Aum Shinrikyo cult is known for carrying out a deadly nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, which killed 13. The group is banned in Russia, but authorities suspect it has up to 30,000 followers in Russia.
Police raided the homes and places of worship of the alleged cultists.
“During the searches, we found and seized ritual items and electronic media. In addition, we discovered addresses of several more active participants of the cult – 11 in Moscow and 14 in St. Petersburg,” Irina Volk, a Ministry of Internal Affairs representative said on Tuesday, reported RT.
The Russian Interior ministry said 44 people were arrested over the two cities, according to ABC. State television apparently showed Russian SWAT teams searching apartments and alleged cult members lying on the ground.
Russian officials claimed the cult was actively recruiting members and using pressure to obtain donations.
“The organizers of this association pressured their victims physically and psychologically, to make them submit donations and their property [to the cult],” said Vladimir Markin, Russia’s Investigative Committee head of the press-service.
The raids followed the detention last month in Montenegro of 43 Russians and 15 other foreigners associated with the cult. All 58 were deported.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press