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The deadliest doctor, or - how the end of the world was avoided in the nineties

The members of the sect believed that the time of the war between Gog and Magog was drawing near, and that when the day of judgment came, only the pure and the successful would survive. In other words, only those who joined the Ahom cult ahead of time will survive. As for the others, they had a different plan, which came to fruition in the sarin gas attack on the subway in Tokyo in 1995

The structure of the seam between the muscles and nerves, the place where the sarin gas attacks
The structure of the seam between the muscles and nerves, the place where the sarin gas attacks

"Therefore, the end of the world should be looked forward to with eagerness, by all believers." William Ames, 1576-1633.

If Ikuo Hayashi had registered himself on JDate, he would not have received any applications because he is Japanese. But if he had registered himself in the electronic equivalent in his country of origin, he would certainly have had to clean out his mailbox every few days from too many inquiries. By the age of 50, the young-looking Ayashi already had a medical degree, was employed as the head of the department of arteriosclerosis and heart medicine at a respected hospital near Tokyo and managed to take part in a mass attack that brought over 5000 people to the hospitals. But apparently he would have omitted the last part, mainly due to the fact that he was one of the terrorists.

After Ayashi finished his medical studies and years of internship, he practiced medicine as a full-time profession. But gradually Ayyashi became discouraged with modern medicine and his attempts to cure the world's ills. He was looking for an answer to life and death, existence and nothingness, the essence of life and its purpose. All of these were found in the Ahom Shinrikyo sect, 'the absolute truth' in a free translation from Japanese, and in its leader, Shoko Ashara.

Already in the 18th century, Voltaire warned against those who claim to know everything there is to know. "He must be extremely ignorant, as he answers every question asked." Voltaire wrote, referring to the leader of the Ahom sect, more than two hundred years after his death. Asahara founded the Ahom cult in Japan as part of an extreme personality cult. The members of the cult swore allegiance to the leader, and did whatever he ordered, with the aim of bringing about the end of the world as soon as possible. In the gestalt of Christianity, Buddhism and the Power Rangers, Ashara declared himself as the new Jesus, who came to take upon himself all the sins of the world, to transform into spiritual energy and flow to his believers to give them superpowers and keep the bad karma away from them.

The members of the sect believed that the time of the war between Gog and Magog was drawing near, and that when the day of judgment came, only the pure and the successful would survive. In other words, only those who joined the Ahom cult ahead of time will survive. But since every extreme faith needs an extreme enemy, Asahara stated that law enforcement agencies and governments around the world are aware of his superior powers and that they are maliciously trying to prevent the Day of Judgment from happening. The sect's main and immediate enemies, according to Asahara, were the rival Japanese religions, the 'Free Masons' from Western countries and, not surprisingly, the Jews, who rule the world with a heavy hand.
Well, Schwinn. We knew it was going to come to this.

From the moment it was founded, the sect grew rapidly until it reached the illusory number of 40,000 believers worldwide, all of whom saw Shoko Ashara as the new Jesus, and some of them were ready to die and even kill for him. Ashara opened a new monastery in Japan, which also served as headquarters for the sect. Only the most devout believers lived in the building, who participated, among other things, in a series of tedious physical training and long meditations, while being connected to electronic sensors that monitor heart rate and brain activity and measure how close the believer came to achieving the desired superpowers.

Ikuo Hayashi, the lost doctor, found the answers he was looking for in Asahara. The megalomaniacal leader found the doctor to his liking, and Ayashi became one of the favorites of the new Jesus and was elected to the position of 'Minister of Health' of the group. He put together the special diet menu for the monks and oversaw experiments with hallucinogenic drugs. But unbeknownst to him and behind his back, Asahara ordered his senior officers to start producing a chemical of a very different type: sarin - a deadly nerve gas.

The cult members who were involved in the production of sarin from chemicals and insecticides took great care to protect themselves from it. They wore sealed protective suits and breathing masks, and for good reason: the sarin molecules, in gas or liquid, are able to penetrate the body through the skin or respiratory tract and damage the links between nerves and muscles. These links are called synapses, in which the nerve endings touch non-touching, gently fluttering, over the surface of the muscle cells.
If until now we have dealt with the way in which the electrical signal jumps along the nerve extension, then at the synapse the electrical message comes to an end. When the command is given in the brain to move the muscle, the message passes through the relevant nerve until it reaches the synapse connected to the appropriate muscle. But the nerve cells do not connect directly to the muscle cells, but only approach their surface. The electrical message actually reaches the end of the nerve branch and there it fades to nothing and zero. How, then, does the signal jump across the intersynaptic gap and reach the muscle? And how does sarin affect the message?

The transmission of the messages of the synapse begins when the electrical voltage reaches the end of the nerve branch. As along the nerve the electrical voltage caused the sodium channels to open one after the other, so the voltage causes a different type of channels to open at the end of the nerve: calcium channels. The positive calcium ions penetrate the end of the nerve through the unexpectedly opened channels, and set in motion a mechanism that results in the release of molecules called acetylcholine from the nerve cell and into the synapse. These molecules belong to a group called neurotransmitters (neural messengers) - and are used to 'bounce' the neural information beyond the synapse.
The truth is that the distance that the message has to travel, between the muscle cell and the nerve cell, is not very large, and amounts to twenty nanometers (twenty billionths of a meter). Because of this, the acetylcholine molecules secreted on one side of the synapse are able to reach the muscle cell almost immediately, on the surface of which they bind to unusual ion channels. These ion channels resemble a locked door: they do not open as a result of the change in electrical voltage, but as a result of the acetylcholine molecule being attached to them, similar to a key. More precisely, each such channel needs two keys - two acetylcholine molecules - that will bind to it together.

From the moment the channel is opened, positive ions of sodium, potassium and calcium flow through it into the muscle cell, and the cell membrane is charged with a strong positive charge, causing more sodium and calcium channels to open. The concentration of calcium ions inside the cell increases rapidly, and when it passes a certain threshold, the muscle fibers inside the cell are able to contract.

And how does sarin work? If we had to design an ideal chemical warfare agent, we would surely try to find a substance that could break down acetylcholine while it is still in the synapse. In this case, the nerve messenger would not be able to open the ion channels on the muscles. The muscles would not receive instructions from the nerves and the victims would die of paralysis. But in a seemingly paradoxical manner, the damage of sarin is manifested precisely in that it does not allow acetylcholine to break down in the synapse cavity.

If the acetylcholine had remained intact within the synapse, then it would have continued to open the ion channels of the muscle cell regularly, and the muscle would have interpreted this as an instruction to contract continuously. To prevent this phenomenon, there is an enzyme in the synapse space called acetylcholinesterase, which is capable of breaking down acetylcholine quickly. In this way, the secreted acetylcholine has time to transmit only a quick message that will lead to a single contraction of the muscle, before it undergoes breakdown, and is absorbed back into the nerve cell, where it is reassembled and ready to be fired again.
The sarin molecules bind to the breaking down enzyme and prevent it from doing its job. The result is that acetylcholine remains intact within the synapse, keeping the channels open and causing the muscle cell to contract repeatedly without stopping. In the first stage of exposure, the victims suffer from tremors and uncontrollable muscle spasms. The various excretory glands in the body - sweat, saliva and others - receive messages to activate them through acetylcholine, so at this stage the victims also experience increased sweating, runny nose, tears and salivation. After a short time, the muscles reach exhaustion and cannot continue to contract. The victims usually die when they suffocate on their own secretions.

The sarin cult attacks

In the early 14s, the Ahom Shinrikyo sect became particularly aggressive, and Asahara ordered his followers to point-blank murder those who opposed the sect and their families. The Japanese police began to understand, little by little, who they were dealing with, and began to gather evidence against the cult and its leader. 1995 years ago, in XNUMX, Ashara realized that the police were about to raid the monasteries owned by the Ahom soon, and decided to provide a cure for Mecca. In a desperate attempt to distract the Japanese police and buy more time, Ayashi and four other members of the cult were sent with instructions to spread about five liters of sarin in the Tokyo subways. To put it into proportion, a drop of sarin sitting on the head of a pin is enough to kill a grown man in one minute.

On March 20, Ikuo Hayashi, a doctor specializing in blood circulation and heart problems, got on the subway in Tokyo. In one hand he carried two sealed plastic bags, each of which contained 450 ml of the deadly nerve gas sarin in its liquid form. In his other hand he held an umbrella with a sharpened metal point, with which he intended to puncture the two bags on the train, killing the man. At the same time, four other members of the Ahom Shinrikyo sect also boarded trains on other lines, preparing to collectively distribute nearly five liters of sarin on the Tokyo subways.

Ayashi boarded the Chiyoda Line, which carries tens of thousands of people every day to Tokyo's central business district, wearing a sterile surgical mask, the kind that doctors wear around the operating room. Since in Japan it is customary to wear a mask to avoid contagion, or the spread of infections, he did not receive suspicious looks from his fellow campers. He continued to avoid attracting suspicion while traveling, until the train arrived at the busiest station. At this point, Ayashi dropped the two bags he was carrying on the floor of the car, quickly punctured one of them with the tip of the umbrella and fled to the platform.

Why didn't Ayashi puncture both bags? The answer lies between man and his God. It is possible that at the moment of truth he remembered that he applied to medical studies to save a life, and did not take it. He may not have had time to puncture the second bag as well, despite the training he did earlier with empty plastic bags. Perhaps the confusion and excitement caused him to miss the second bag. But even though only one bag was pierced, the sarin did its job faithfully. The train continued its journey down the line, but the passengers in the car began to feel the effects of the sarin almost immediately. The small molecules evaporated from the liquid into the air, invaded the human nervous systems and stopped the breakdown of the acetylcholine in the synapses. At every station passengers collapsed out of the carriage and crawled on their hands and feet to get away from the train. The more resistant passengers, or those who were exposed to a smaller amount of the substance, came out dizzy, shaking and liquid - and immediately went to work, as is the way of the Japanese.

Trains in Japan have many flaws: they suffer from overcrowding, are used as a popular tool for suicides and stop at stations whose names can break teeth as well as jaws. You can say a lot of bad things about them, but they are accurate: the average delay of the high-speed train connecting Tokyo and Shin-Osaka is around twenty seconds. If the train is delayed for more than five minutes, the conductors apologize to the passengers and give them 'delay tickets', which they can present as justification to employers. In fact, the only other country where this custom is accepted is Germany, where the railway system is particularly developed, as you know.

From the above it is easy to understand that despite the commotion in the cars, the subway continued traveling according to the route, because the journey is not stopped just because of a few fainting spells. This is probably why the train continued and passed through four stops, with people falling out of the carriage at each stop and new victims emerging. Only after four stops there was a short stop to understand the source of the problem. The punctured bag was removed by the train workers, two of whom later died, and the train continued its journey to the next station. There, finally, someone in authority and resourcefulness ordered to stop the train, evacuate all the passengers and thoroughly clean it.

Ayashi single-handedly caused the death of two people and seriously injured 231 other passengers. The main reason for the 'minor' mortality lies in the fact that the quality of the sarin produced was poor and that the members of the cult did not disperse the sarin using sprayers, but let it slowly leak out of the bags. Because sarin evaporates very slowly, the passengers did not receive a lethal dose of sarin from the air. These two facts greatly reduced the number of Ayyashi's victims. But the doctor did not work alone.

The other four cult members also boarded, at the same time, on other train lines. They were not bad or evil people. It is very difficult to find such in our world. Each of them was promised by the guru that by their actions they help to dispel the bad karma of the non-believers, and that the dead in the attack will ascend to heaven above and a better life after death. They were armed with good intentions and sarin bags, which they blew up with such enthusiasm that the metal tip of some of the umbrellas bent from the force of the impact on the floor of the car.

In a short time, the wails of ambulances filled the space of Tokyo, one of the most densely populated cities in the world. The security and aid authorities were mobilized to bring the victims to the hospitals. Many of the rescuers - the ambulance drivers, medics, firefighters and doctors - suffered secondary injuries from the sarin left on the bodies of the victims. By the end of the day, approximately 5,600 victims had arrived at the hospitals in Tokyo, who had never encountered or prepared for an event of this magnitude, or nerve gas exposure.

Despite the panic that prevailed among doctors and patients alike, most of the injured were treated successfully during the day and sent back home. At the end of the day, eight people were missing with the dead, and the number rose to a dozen dead by the time of the trial against the cult members.

When Shoko Asahara, the leader of the sect, ordered the execution of the attack, he intended to delay the date of the police raid on his headquarters. Asahra believed that the raid was intended to take place later that day, and hoped that the attack would divert attention from the sect, leaving the army and police grounded in Tokyo. In this respect, the attack did achieve its goal, but only to a limited extent: the raid on the sect's headquarters was delayed - but only by two days. After two days of public uproar, the Japanese government tried its luck and on March 22, 2,500 police and soldiers raided the monasteries, hospitals and headquarters owned by the Ahom sect. All were equipped with protection against chemical and biological warfare agents, and some also carried canaries in cages. These defensive measures were wisely taken, given the findings they discovered.

The raiders did not succeed in locating the leader of the sect, but in the weeks following the attack, more than 150 members of the sect were arrested and stockpiles containing conventional and non-conventional means of warfare were confiscated. Explosives, chemical warfare agents such as sarin and means of biological warfare - including cultures of anthrax bacteria and Ebola viruses - were found in the basements of the sect's main headquarters. The basements of the building contained chemicals that could be used to create a massive amount of chemical warfare agents for mass use. And if all this is not enough, a Russian-made combat plane was also discovered at the headquarters, from which the chemical and biological warfare agents could be sprayed. All this shows that Asahara was not joking when he said that the end of the Japanese government - and the entire world - is getting closer. He simply intended to help bring about the end on his own.

Asahra was captured by the police after two months, in a tiny hiding place, when he was immersed in meditation until that time all the sarin carriers who were involved in the mass attack on the trains were also captured. All of them, including Ashara, were sentenced to death by the court, except for Ikuo Hayashi. The doctor, who betrayed the Hippocratic Oath under the influence of the cult, came to his senses in court, confessed to all his crimes and apologized to the victims of the attack. The court took into account the mitigating circumstances, and especially the fact that if Ayashi had not confessed to his participation in the attack, the police would not have discovered it on their own. His sentence, therefore, was life in prison.

The Ahom Shinrikyo sect was disbanded, but was re-established by a nucleus of particularly pious believers, who were not involved in the sect's terrorist attacks, kidnappings and murders. The sect, in its new incarnation, apologized to the victims of the attacks and distinguished itself from the terrorist acts of the past. Today the sect exists under the name 'Aleph' - the first letter in the Hebrew script, and according to many mystics, also has a miraculous meaning symbolizing a new beginning. But the Japanese police do not believe in mysticism, and still closely monitor the cult's activities even in its current incarnation. It is hard to believe that under these conditions the sect can reproduce its terrorist acts, but Ahome Shinrikyo is still a grim example of the ease with which weapons of mass destruction can be produced, even in the heart of one of the most modern countries in the world. And who knows? Had it not been for the decision in the heart of the Japanese government to raid the sect's headquarters, it is possible that the end of humanity would have come in 1997 - the year in which Asahara predicted that the end of the world would come.

Next chapter: Attack of the pink elephants - LSD, serotonin and neurotransmitters

The first episode in the series: Electricity, Nerves and the Ethnobiology of Zombies
For the second chapter: When the body attacks the mind: myelin and multiple sclerosis

4 תגובות

  1. Fascinating and interesting article.
    Roi Tsezana - Yasher Khok.
    If you pursue a career in popular science writing you will be one of the best.

  2. The first time I read about this attack was in the book 'Underground' by Haruki Murakami. An excellent book in which the author raises very smart and challenging questions about society's way of dealing with people who turn to cults and what motivated them to join one sect or another. (In my opinion, religion is also a kind of cult, but that is another topic.)
    All his books are highly recommended but this one in particular

  3. "Home Shinrikyo is still a sad example of the ease with which weapons of mass destruction can be produced"
    In my opinion - more than that, he is an example of the damage that occurs when faith replaces critical thought. Such a belief can lead people to destroy masses even if they cannot produce weapons of mass destruction.

  4. Friends, there is a sect with a tradition from ancient times that I am establishing now, everyone who will be a member of it will be saved from the coming judgment day.

    Membership fee: 1500 NIS, I get a visa and an Isracard, those who pay in cash will survive even on the Second Judgment Day

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