Aum members down to 1,500 but cult still threat: agency

Toyko, Japan - Aum Shinrikyo has lost about 150 cultists since it was placed under watch by the government in 2000, according to an intelligence agency report.

As of Nov. 30, the government estimates the cult, now renamed Aleph, had about 1,500 members.

The Public Security Intelligence Agency attributed the decline chiefly to conflicts within the sect about how it should be run.

The agency warned that despite the drop in members, the sect, responsible for the 1995 sarin attack on the Tokyo subway system and other acts of mass murder, still poses a threat.

The information is contained in the Review and Prospect of Internal and External Situations for 2008, the agency's annual report on domestic and international security situations, to be released Saturday.

Among the 1,500 followers are 210 who are believed to support Aum's former chief spokesman, Fumihiro Joyu, who left Aleph. The Joyu group increased its followers from 163 as of May 31, the agency said.

"Given that a majority of the approximately 1,500 people had been initiated into the sect before the subway sarin incident, the dangerous nature (of the sect) remains unchanged," the report said.