AUM members planned terror attack near Imperial Palace

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia--Four Russian followers of the AUM Shinrikyo religious cult admitted at the first hearing of their trial in Vladivostok on Wednesday that they planned to set off bombs near the Imperial Palace in Tokyo as well as in the cities of Sapporo and Aomori.

Dmitry Sigachev and three other AUM followers planned the attacks to try to free AUM guru Shoko Asahara, Russian security authorities said. AUM stands accused of being responsible for the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack.

The four prepared explosives in late 1999 in Vladivostok, the authorities said.

In Tokyo, they planned bombings near the Imperial Palace and the Tokyo Detention House, where Asahara is imprisoned, the authorities said. The four also planned to set off bombs at a station and a hotel in Sapporo, as well as a tourist center in Aomori, they said.

Sigachev came to Japan in March last year and dropped plans to target the Imperial Palace and the Diet due to tight security, according to Russian security investigations. He also checked security around the detention house in Katsushika Ward and found there were few people strolling around the area at night.

The four planned to demand that the Japanese government hand Asahara over to them so that they could take him to a coastal region, according to the authorities. The suspects also prepared a threatening letter addressed to then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, the authorities said.

The four and others convened an international gathering of AUM followers in Prague in the spring of 2000. During the parley, one of Asahara's daughters, in a prerecorded video, pleaded with the Russians to abandon their planned terrorist attacks on Japan, the Russian authorities said.

The four also traveled to Vienna and Bali and received $30,000 and 9 million yen from a man identifying himself as ''Ichiro Ishii,'' the authorities said.

The four were arrested by Russian authorities in July last year.

AUM founder Asahara and a number of other members of AUM, which now calls itself Aleph, have been tried for the Tokyo subway attack in which 12 people were killed and thousands injured, as well as for a number of other crimes.