(TOKYO) — Until New Year’s Eve, Makoto Hirata was one of Japan’s most wanted fugitives.
His face plastered across every police station, Hirata had been on the run for nearly 17 years — wanted for allegedly kidnapping and killing the brother of a member of the Aum Supreme Truth doomsday cult, the group behind the 1995 sarin gas attack, Japan’s largest domestic terror case. He was also considered a key accomplice to former cult leader Shoko Asahara, who masterminded the attack on Tokyo’s subway system, which killed a dozen people.
Yet, when the 46-year-old finally decided to surrender Saturday, he had to nearly beg police to arrest him. Japanese media report the fugitive tried, unsuccessfully, for three hours to convince authorities he was the man in the wanted poster.
According to his lawyer Taro Takimoto, Hirata first went to a Tokyo-area police station around 9 p.m. — specifically because he knew the investigative unit for the cult was based there. When he couldn’t find the entrance, which was upstairs, he called a police hotline set up for tips on Hirata and two other missing cult members. He called 10 times, but got a busy signal.
Hirata then called the emergency number, asking which police unit was in charge of his case, though he didn’t identify himself. The fugitive took the train to the Tokyo police headquarters near the central government district, but was turned away by the officer on guard, who thought Hirata was pulling a prank.
The officer, weary of Hirata, pointed him towards another nearby police station without checking his ID. Hirata’s quest to surrender finally came to an end just before the new year, at 11:50 p.m., when he was taken into custody.
Takimoto said Hirata felt compelled to turn himself in after witnessing the devastation caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
“The senseless scenes from Tohoku after the earthquake made me question my own situation,” Hirata said, in a statement read by Takimoto. “I wanted to turn myself in by the end of the year.”
Former leader Asahara and 12 other senior cult members have been sentenced to death for their roles in the sarin gas attack, but two others wanted in connection with the crimes remain at large.
Takimoto said Hirata remained in Japan during his years on the run. He reportedly had no contact with the other Aum fugitives.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Barbara Starr, CNN
Madison Park and Steve Almasy, CNN