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NEW CHARGES PROMPT RAID ON JAPAN CULT

Japanese police today raided the complex of a doomsday cult on the new charge that the sect was preparing to murder people with lethal gases, police sources said.

Police said more than 1,000 officers entered the complex of Aum Shinri Kyo -- the Supreme Truth Sect -- at the small village of Kamikuishiki near the foot of Mount Fuji, 63 miles west of Tokyo.

Today's raid appeared to be hampered by an overnight storm that left 7.9 inches of snow over the area.

The new charge, "murder preparation," can be used against anyone producing any item that clearly could be used as a weapon for murder. The charge is not used against defendants in actual murder cases.

In four days of raids last week, -- based on charges of abduction -- police seized hundreds of tons of chemicals, including ingredients of sarin, the lethal nerve gas used in Monday's attack on a Tokyo subway that killed 10 people and injured thousands.

Ingredients of nitroglycerine and dynamite, as well as those used to make illegal amphetamine stimulant drugs have also been found.

The Kyodo News Service said police planned to dig into a secret underground bunker they had discovered beneath the complex. It said it could be a prison for confining sect followers who wished to leave, or a secret chemical warehouse.

"(The sect) routinely gave followers injections there. They were handcuffed and placed in the underground bunker, which looks like a solitary confinement cell," Kyodo quoted an unnamed former follower as saying.

Quoting police sources, Kyodo also reported that police have linked chemical residue found nine months ago in soil samples at the Mount Fuji complex with the traces of nerve gas found in the Tokyo subway.

The residue also matches that discovered following the mysterious deaths last July of seven people in Matsumoto in central Japan, Kyodo said.

Two weeks after the Matsumoto deaths, police took soil samples from near the compound after neighbors had complained of noxious fumes. Traces of sarin, first developed by German scientists just before World War II, were found, but no arrests were made.

The sarin in the soil samples was matched with that from the Matsumoto deaths and subway attack through chemical fingerprinting conducted at the Metropolitan Police Department's forensics laboratory using a technique called gas chromoatrography, Kyodo said.

The analysis showed that residue from sarin production was identified as methylphosphine acid diisopropyl and other related substances, the police sources told Kyodo.

This proves that the same people produced the three samples using an identical method, Kyodo said. Chemical experts have said sarin can be produced using a variety of methods.

A spokesman for Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department, which is conducting the investigation, said he had no information on the reports. Japanese police spokesmen do not confirm details of an investigation.

Shoko Asahara, the bearded guru of the 10,000-member sect, repeatedly has denied his group had anything to do with the nerve-gas attack.

In videotaped messages addressed to the media and to followers, Asahara instead accused the U.S. military of spraying sarin over his sect's premises.

No suspects have been named in the subway gas attack, which hit five trains during rush hour last Monday.

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