TOKYO - Japanese police arrested the man Friday thought to be the final suspect from the doomsday cult behind a 1995 deadly poison gas attack on Tokyo’s subways, bringing a 17-year manhunt to an end.
The man, Katsuya Takahashi, 54, had been one of Japan’s most-wanted fugitives for the role that authorities say he played in the nerve gas poisoning on the crowded subway system here that killed 13 people and sickened thousands of others.
Investigators arrested Takahashi as he left an Internet cafe in central Tokyo after receiving a tip that a man resembling the fugitive had been spotted there, according to the public broadcaster NHK. Takahashi faces murder charges.
Friday’s arrest brings to a close a long search for suspects behind the 1995 subway attack and a string of other acts of violence by the doomsday cult, Aum Shinrikyo, that terrified a public unaccustomed to violent crime or terrorism.
Five cult members have received life sentences for the attacks, and 13 have been sentenced to death, including the mastermind, blind cult leader Chizuo Matsumoto, more commonly known as Shoko Asahara.
Takahashi’s arrest came less than two weeks after Naoko Kikuchi, suspected of being an accomplice, was arrested in a Tokyo suburb. Police said information gathered during her arrest, as well as more than 1,700 tips from the public on Takahashi’s whereabouts since then, had put investigators on Takahashi’s trail.
“We believe that information led to today’s arrest,’’ Naomasa Yoshida, head of criminal investigations at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, said at a news conference after the arrest. “We are deeply thankful to the citizens of Tokyo and of Japan for their support and cooperation.’’
A banner at the top of the department’s website announced Takahashi’s arrest, together with a message of thanks.
Takahashi and Kikuchi had managed to elude the authorities for 17 years, although their photographs appeared on wanted posters across Japan. The manhunt appeared to gain momentum after another member of the Aum Shinrikyo cult wanted in connection with the attack, Makoto Hirata, turned himself in to police five months ago.
Takahashi is thought to have used an alias as he lived in several apartments and hotels in Yokohama and Kawasaki, just outside Tokyo. He most recently worked at a construction company in Kawasaki, according to local news reports, but left after Kikuchi’s arrest this month. Shortly after that arrest, security cameras at a bank in Kawasaki captured an image of a man thought to be Takahashi as he withdrew a large amount of money.
Police then stepped up their manhunt, assigning 170 special investigators to the case and at one point dispatching about 5,000 police officers to stake out major train stations, according to the local media. Police also released a dozen photos and four video clips of a man thought to be of Takahashi.