Twenty years ago today, Japan suffered its worst terrorist atrocity, the sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subways by the religious cult known as Aum Shinrikyo. Over at the Wall Street Journal, my column this week looks at the lessons for the West that still resonate from the Aum attacks.

In many ways, those lessons are stronger today than they ever have been. Right now, the Boston Marathon bombing trial is going on, revisiting the question of how to identify and stop homegrown terrorism. Japanese authorities failed miserably in stopping Aum, even though they had committed numerous acts of terror before, including a prior gas attack, using nerve agents, and old-fashioned murder. The lesson is clear: let homegrown terrorism fester, and it will metastasize, eventually causing a catastrophe.

And what about ISIS? Aum may have been the first of the millenarian death cults. Aum’s leader Shoko Asahara (who still sits on Japan’s Death Row, awaiting punishment) essentially made up his cult’s religion, but the apocalyptic or messianic aspect served increasingly as its guiding force. We see that now with ISIS, as they behead and immolate their way through the Middle East, using religion as both justification and incitement. Religious cults that venerate death are a unique poison that cannot be rationalized with, nor contained. They must be destroyed.

Aum Shinrikyo is not an exact parallel to what we face today, but it holds eerie similarities that we can perhaps see better for the time that has passed. In two decades, Japan may not have suffered a similar attack, but the type of threat it faced on that deadly morning is now a part of our larger world.

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