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Montenegro's deportation of Japanese cult leaves questions hanging

Montenegro has deported 58 foreign members of a Japanese doomsday cult. But it is far from clear why they were there in the first place and where they have gone now.

Former AUM Shinrikyo cult member Naoko Kikuchi is pictured while being escorted to a police station in Tokyo on June 4, 2012. Kikuchi had been wanted for alleged involvement in the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack.

Former AUM Shinrikyo cult member Naoko Kikuchi is pictured while being escorted to a police station in Tokyo on June 4, 2012. Kikuchi had been wanted for alleged involvement in the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin gas attack.

The group - made up of 43 Russians, seven Belarusians, four Japanese, three from Ukraine and one from Uzbekistan - are reportedly members of Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese doomsday cult, a police source told AFP anonymously.

A police statement did not specify the name of the religious group.

"Police received information from partner security services showing that a group of foreign nationals, who were members of a closed religious group, were staying in Montenegro," a police statement read Tuesday.

The official reason given for the deportation was group members lacked temporary residence permits allowing them to stay in the small Balkan country, police said.

Aum Shinrikyo carried out a deadly sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995. It was also found to have been responsible for another smaller sarin attack the previous year. The group has never confessed to either and no members have been charged.

A thickened plot

After being discovered last Friday in two hotels, one in the central town of Danilovgrad - where they reportedly rented an entire hotel for ten days, without the hotel's staff - the group members gave statements to police and their laptops and mobile phones were taken for examination.

During the hearings members reportedly said they had come to Montenegro as tourists. No arrests were made.

Police did not elaborate on the group's reason for being in Montenegro.

An earlier statement from the Russian foreign ministry said 60 foreign nationals, including Russians, had been detained by Montenegro police on suspicion of involvement in "international organised crime" and that they had been released without questioning.

A terrorist organization?

Aum Shinrikyo is a Japanese doomsday cult founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984. It reportedly has about 1,000 members, down from a peak of about 1,500 a decade ago.

The group has formally been designated a terrorist organization by several countries, including Canada, Kazakhstan and the US. Japan's Public Security Examination Commission considers it to be a "dangerous religion" and announced in January 2015 that it would remain under surveillance for three more years.

jbh/rc (AFP, AP)

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