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Kenya cult death toll rises to 200, with more than 600 reported missing


NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The death toll linked to a doomsday cult in Kenya reached 201 on Saturday after police exhumed another 22 bodies, most of them showing signs of famine, the regional coastal commissioner said.

The bodies are believed to be those of followers of a pastor in coastal Kenya, Paul Mackenzie. He is said to have ordered (avoiding repetition of “believed”) congregants to starve to meet Jesus.

More than 600 people are still missing.

Mackenzie, who was arrested last month, remains in custody. Police intend to charge him with terrorism-related crimes.

Hundreds of bodies have been exhumed from dozens of mass graves scattered across his 800-hectare estate, located in the coastal region of Kilifi.

Mackenzie insists he closed his church in 2019 and moved to his property in a wooded area to farm.

Autopsies performed on more than 100 bodies last week showed the victims died of starvation, strangulation, suffocation and injuries sustained by blunt objects.

Local media has reported cases of missing internal body organs, citing investigators in the case.

Mackenzie, his wife and 16 other suspects will appear in court at the end of this month.

Regional Coastal Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha said on Saturday the total number of those arrested was 26, with 610 people reported missing by their families.

It’s unclear how many survivors have so far been rescued from the search and rescue operations on Mackenzie’s sprawling estate. Some of them were too weak to walk when they were found.

Sects are common in Kenya, which has a religious society.

Police across the country have questioned other religious leaders whose teachings are believed to be misleading and violate basic human rights.

President William Ruto last week set up a commission of inquiry to investigate how hundreds of people were lured to death on the coast and to recommend action against institutions that failed to act.

Mackenzie had been charged in the past with the deaths of children at his church in a lawsuit that is still pending. Local residents had raised the alarm after his followers moved to the wooded area.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.