Suspected Kenya Starvation Cult victims – screenshot
The leader of a Christian cult who has been accused of encouraging his followers to starve themselves appeared in court in Mombasa, Kenya on Friday, telling CNN afterwards that the hearing is a “matter of intimidation” and time-wasting.
Paul Nthenge Mackenzie was arrested last month after police received a tipoff that his land on the Shakahola forest in the Kilifi County of eastern Kenya contained mass graves.
According to court documents, investigators have so far found 249 bodies and at least 10 mass graves in the Shakahola forest area.
Mackenzie who appeared before the magistrate’s court in Mombasa, told CNN’s David McKenzie that he had “never seen anybody starving” when asked about accusations that followers of his group had starved their children following his instructions.
In court documents dated Friday, the state prosecutor said it would seek to extend the respondents’ custody period by a further 60 days.
The prosecutor has maintained that the “extended period of 60 days is the least period possible within which investigations are to be completed under the prevailing circumstances.”
The prosecutor is also arguing that there are “compelling reasons” to deny the respondents bail, including evidence gathered thus far which “demonstrates a high likelihood of serious charges against the accused.”
The corpses of more than 100 Kenyans who starved themselves to death 'to meet Jesus' have been found in mass graves in a case that has shocked the world - but they are just the latest victims of a cult that ended in unimaginable tragedy.
As fears grow that the death toll could rise, the grim discovery has sparked memories of some of the world's worst cases of cult-related deaths which have - in some cases - seen hundreds of people take part in mass suicides and murders.
History has demonstrated that cult leaders, often using religion as a means to persuade their followers to obey them in order to achieve some form of divine ascension, have the power to persuade their flock to commit the unthinkable.
Cult leader Paul Mackenzie Nthenge has been accused of the 103 deaths linked to his church. Should he be found guilty, he would join the likes of Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, Shoko Asahara and David Koresh as being a notorious cult leader responsible for the deaths of dozens and possibly hundreds of followers.
As the mass starvation in Kenya joins a terrifying list of cults that have ended in tragedy - either for their members, detractors or the general public - MailOnline looks at some of the most infamous death cults...
The corpses of around 100 Kenyans who starved themselves to death 'to meet Jesus' have been found in mass graves in a case that has shocked the world - but they are just the latest victims of a cult that ended in unimaginable tragedy. Pictured: Police and locals carry exhumed bodies of victims of the starvation cult in a makeshift stretcher, April 23
As fears grow that the death toll could rise, the grim discovery has sparked memories of some of the world's worst cases of cult-related deaths which have - in some cases - seen hundreds of people take part in mass suicides and murders. Pictured: Digged holes are seen after exhuming bodies at the mass-grave site in Shakahola, Kenya, on April 25
The People's Temple of the Disciples of Christ (United States/Guyana)
The People's Temple of the Disciples of Christ was an American religious organisation founded by Jim Jones, combining Christianity and communist ideology.
Jones and his followers forged ties with many left wing political figures, and at its height claimed to have 20,000 members, although the true number was more likely around 3,000 to 5,000 people.
Founded in 1954 by Jones in Indianapolis, the group - which would later go on to be regarded as a destructive cult - famously met a tragic end in 1978.
Four years earlier, in 1974, the People's Temple signed a lease to rent land in the South American nation of Guyana, where the cult established the People's Temple Agricultural Project, that was informally dubbed 'Jonestown'.
Pictured: This 1976 photograph shows Reverend Jim Jones, the founder of The People's Temple. He eventually moved himself and other followers to Guyana, where more than 900 people drank
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Jones saw the project as a socialist paradise, and as sanctuary from the media scrutiny he was received following a series of reports about his cult in 1972.
Jonestown had around 50 members by 1977, but as media scrutiny over Jones's organisation grew, the population grew to over 900 by late 1978. Those who moved to Jonestown were promised a socialist paradise, sheltered from the outside world.
But there was a darker truth lying beneath the surface.
US Representative Leo Ryan visited Jonestown on November 17, 1978 to investigate claims of abuse within the temple. While he was there, a number of the cult's members expressed their desire to leave with him back to America.
However, as Ryan and a group of journalists went to the local airstrip at Port Kaituma on November 18, Jones's self-styled security guards opened fire on the group.
Ryan and three journalists were killed along with one of the defectors.
That same evening, Jones and several other members argued that the congregation should commit 'revolutionary suicide' fearing the US military would soon arrive.
Since 1976, Jones had been receiving monthly shipments of cyanide after he had obtained a jeweller's licence to buy the chemical, purportedly to clean gold.
Pictured: An aerial view of some of the bodies at Jonestown, seen on November 18, 1978. Over 900 members of the People's Temple Cult - led by Reverend Jim Jones - either killed themselves with cyanide-laced Flavor Aid, or were killed by other members of the cult
Pictured: The aftermath of the mass suicide of the religious cult, The People's Temple, led by Jim Jones, is seen in Jonestown in 1978
Pictured: Representative Leo Ryan of California, who was shot and killed in Jonestown, shortly before members of the cult committed mass suicide, or were killed when they did not
In a room guarded by armed guards, he ordered his congregation to drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. Those that resisted were injected with the poison, as were infants, while some managed to escape the mass suicide by fleeing through the jungle.
Jones recorded the event on audio tape, which later gave investigators a better picture of the events and how they unfolded.
The tape captured his last words. 'Take our life from us. We laid it down. We got tired. We didn't commit suicide. We committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world,' he is heard saying.
Until September 11, 2001, the Jonestown massacre was the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act on record.
A sign over Jones's altar read: 'Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it'.
Jonestown put the spotlight on cults and cult leaders, while also stoking a morbid fascination in such groups from many who wanted to understand what drove the members of the People's Temple to such extreme acts.
Author Stewart Stafford explains: 'Cults tend to follow similar patterns. First, there's financial exploitation where members hand over money and assets to increase the cult's power over them and make them dependent on it.
'Then the sexual exploitation begins. Finally, there's physical exploitation involving confinement, punishment, and isolation from family members.'
Stafford adds: 'If the cult's leader has become delusional enough to think they have the God-like power of life and death over their followers, they may demand the ultimate sacrifice - mass suicide.'
Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God (Uganda)
Like the People's Temple and many on this list, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God was a religious group.
It was founded by Credonia Mwerinde and Joseph Kibweteere in southwestern Uganda in 1989 after the pair claimed they had seen visions of the Virgin Mary.
The group's primary goals were to spread the word of Jesus Christ and to obey the Ten Commandments - in order to avoid damnation in the apocalypse.
Fear of the ten commandments was so strong among the group that its leaders even discouraged talking so as not to break the ninth commandment, which states: 'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour'.
But despite this strict adherence to the ninth commandment, the cult met a tragic end when its leader disobeyed the sixth: 'Thou shalt not kill.'
The cult was born from a time of political and social turmoil in Uganda. The rule of Idi Amin, the AIDS pandemic and the Ugandan Bush War had wreaked havoc across the African nation, and many were losing faith in the Catholic Church.
Pictured: Religious statues ornament a table March, 19, 2000, in a classroom of the Ugandan cult, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God
This left a void ready to be filled by others, such as Mwerinde and Kibweteere and other leaders inside the cult, such as Dominic Kataribabo - a respected and popular priest with a PhD from a university in the US.
In the late 1990s, the leaders declared that the year 2000 would bring the apocalypse, and the group began its preparation for the end.
As the start of a new millennium approached, the cult's members were worked up into a frenzy. They sold their belongings - including their clothes and cattle - and handed over the proceeds to the cult leaders.
Past members were recruited back into the group.
However, when January 1, 2000 passed without the world ending, the movement began to collapse around Mwerinde and Kibweteere.
In a desperate attempt to bring people back under their control, they announced another date - this time March 17, 2000 - for the 'true' end to the world, and a huge party was organised in the town of Kanungu.
But minutes after the members arrived for the end of the world party, a huge explosion ripped through the building, gutting it in an intense fire.
All 530 people in attendance were killed - unable to escape on account of the doors and windows having been boarded up to prevent their escape.
In the four days that followed the blast, police discovered hundreds of more bodies at Movement properties across southern Uganda.
A soldier views the burned remains of Ugandans of Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, who two days earlier were killed in their makeshift church in Kanugu in the Rukungiri district, western Uganda, March 19, 2000
In one location, 153 bodies were found, and in another they found 155 - where people had been poisoned and stabbed. Police later said the people had been murdered about three weeks before the church inferno.
In total, 395 people who did not die in the fire had been poisoned - taking the total death toll from the cult's massacre to 925.
It was initially believed that the killings were part of a mass suicide, but later it was re-classified as a mass murder. The whereabouts of the movement's five key leaders - Joseph Kibweteere, Joseph Kasapurari, John Kamagara, Dominic Kataribabo, and Credonia Mwerinde - remains unknown.
It is likely that they escaped, and a warrant remains out for their arrest. No one has been held accountable.
Another American new religious movement, Heaven's Gate, also ended with a horrific tragedy when its members - persuaded by their leader - committed suicide.
Academics have described the group as a mixture of Christian millenarianism, New Age, and ufology, and as such it has been characterised as a UFO religion.
The central belief of the group's followers was that they could transform themselves into immortal extraterrestrial beings by rejecting their human nature - and would then be able to ascend to heaven while still alive on board a UFO.
A truck containing some of the bodies of the Heaven's Gate cult, which committed mass suicide, is shown outside the cult's compound in San Diego, Calif., March 27, 1997
However, when its co-founder Bonnie Nettles died of cancer in 1985, the group's views on ascension changed.
Instead of believing they would be alive when they travelled to heaven on a UFO, her death led them to believe the human body is merely a vessel for the soul - and their consciousness would be the one to transcend.
It was this belief that led them to their final act.
On its website outlining its beliefs at the time, the cult said: 'We know that it is only while we are in these physical vehicles (bodies) that we can learn the lessons needed to complete our own individual transition, as well as to complete our task of offering the Kingdom of Heaven to this civilisation one last time.'
In October 1996, the group rented a large 9,600 square feet home in Santa Fe, California. That same month, they also all purchased alien abduction insurance.
Marshall Applewhite, the second co-founder, video taped a final message in which he said mass suicide was 'the only way to evacuate this Earth' on March 19-20.
He said a spacecraft was following Comet Hale–Bopp (one of the most widely-observed comets of the 20th century) and that the souls of those who committed suicide would board this UFO to heaven.
The comet, he said, would represent the 'closure to Heaven's Gate'.
To prepare, Applewhite and his 38 followers took the anti-seizure drug phenobarbital mixed with apple sauce or pudding. Most of them also drank vodka to enhance the drug's potency, before tying plastic bags over their heads so they would suffocate.
All 39 members were dressed in an identical way - with black shirts and sweat pants, and brand-new black-and-white Nike Decades shoes.
They also wore armband patches reading 'Heaven's Gate Away Team'. Each had $5.75 - made up of a five-dollar bill and three quarter coins - in their pockets.
Pictured: The Heaven's Gate cult's official logo. Academics have described the group as a mixture of Christian millenarianism, New Age, and ufology, and as such it has been characterised as a UFO religion
Pictured: Marshall Herff Applewhite speaks on videotape. Applewhite, who founded the organisation known as Heaven's Gate, lead 38 others in a mass suicide near San Diego
Pictured: Two bodies are seen inside a home rented by the Heaven's Gate cult, where 39 of its members took it in turns to commit suicide before their bodies were arranged
A survivor later said this was a reference to a Mark Twain story, which says '$5.75 was 'the cost to ride the tail of a comet to heaven.'
Other former members said the five-dollar bill was the cost of covering vagrancy laws, while the three quarters were to cover the cost of pay phones.
After each member died, a living member would arrange their body by removing the plastic bag and placing them on a bed, covering the face and torso with a purple blanket - reportedly to give them privacy.
Applewhite was the third-last to die, with the final two members to take their lives both found with bags still over their heads on account of no one taking them off for them or arranging them like those who had died before them.
A police officer discovered the 39 bodies in the house on March 26 as an anonymous tip suggested they 'check on the welfare of the residents.'
The Heaven's Gate deaths received mass media coverage at the time. When the news broke that their beliefs were tied to the Hale-Bopp comet, its co-discoverer Alan Hale said his phone 'never stopped ringing the entire day'.
Responding to the links in 1998 at the Second World Skeptics Congress in Heidelberg, Germany, he slammed the cult's belief.
A report of his comments said that 'he lambasted the combination of scientific illiteracy, willful delusions, a radio talk show's deception about an imaginary spacecraft following the comet, and a cult's bizarre yearnings for ascending to another level of existence that led to the Heaven's Gate mass suicides.'
It also said that Hale had warned a colleague that there could be suicides related to the comet well before the deaths at Heaven's Gate.
'We are probably going to have some suicides as a result of this comet',' he later quoted himself as saying.
'The sad part is that I was really not surprised. Comets are lovely objects, but they don't have apocalyptic significance. We must use our minds, our reason.'
Aum Shinrikyo (Japan)
The Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) cult was a Japanese new religious movement and doomsday cult founded by Shoko Asahara in 1987.
The group drew on elements of early Indian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism, as well as Hinduism, while also taking on Christian millennialist ideas.
Despite warnings from religious and cult experts, the Japanese government granted Aum Shinrikyo and his organisation recognition as a legal religious corporation in 1989, and he went on to appear on television - expanding his following.
In 1992, Asahara declared himself as Christ, saying he could take others' sins upon himself and that he could transfer spiritual power to them - all while propagating conspiracy theories about the Jews, the Freemasons, the Dutch, the British Royal Family - as well as rival Japanese religions.
He also outlined a doomsday prophecy, which included a third World War, and described how a final conflict would culminate in nuclear Armageddon.
Unlike with The Peoples Temple, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God and Heaven's Gate, however, Aum Shinrikyo did not end with mass suicide.
Infact, the organisation continues to exist in Japan to this day.
This file photo taken on October 1, 1990 shows Shoko Asahara, guru of the doomsday Aum Shinrikyo cult. He was executed in 2018 for his role in terrorist attacks in Tokyo
This is despite the fact that on March 20 1995, members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult attacked the Tokyo subway with the nerve agent sarin.
In five coordinated attacks, the cultists released the deadly gas on three lines of the Tokyo subway simultaneously, resulting in the deaths of thirteen people while thousands more suffered from its effects - such as temporary vision problems.
Authorities accused Aum Shinrikyo of being complicit in the attack - Japan's deadliest ever terrorist attack - as well as a number of other incidents on a smaller scale which also used sarin and other biochemical agents.
In a crackdown on the group, dozens of Asahara's disciples were arrested, the group's facilities were raided, and a warrant was issued for Asahara's arrest.
On May 16 that same year, Asahara was found by authorities inside a small room in one of the cult's facilities - and was charged with 27 counts of murder.
He was also accused of masterminding the Matsumoto incident (another sarin attack that killed nine people, nine months after that on the Tokyo subway) as well as the murder of the Sakamoto family.
The father of the family, Tsutsumi Sakamoto, was working on a class action lawsuit against the doomsday cult. His wife and child were also killed.
Pictured: An Aum Shinrikyo follower meditates in front of a picture of Aum Shinrikyo, 1999
Pictured: Members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult sit on the ground to perform a rite
A commuter is treated by an emergency medical team at a make-shift shelter before being transported to hospital after being exposed to Sarin gas fumes - released by members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult - in the Tokyo subway system on March 20, 1995
The trial took more than seven years to conclude, and saw some of the Aum Shinrikyo disciples testify against Asahara. Finally, on February 24, 2004, he was sentenced to death in what was dubbed 'the trial of the century' in Japan.
Appeals on the grounds of Asahara being mentally unfit were declined and - 23 years after the Tokyo sarin attack - he was executed by hanging on July 6, 2018 along with six followers. Six more were executed on July 26 that same year.
Nevertheless, Aum Shinrikyo did not break up upon Asahara's death, and its members have been behind several other attacks.
The group has been formally designated a terrorist organisation by several countries, including Russia, Canada, Kazakhstan and the European Union.
Branch Davidians (Waco, Texas, United States)
The Branch Davidians were an eccentric religious group in Waco, Texas, whose leader, David Koresh, had multiple wives and slept with under-age girls.
But he was not the founder of the group. That was a man named Benjamin Roden in 1955, although its roots date back even further to 1935 and a Bulgarian immigrant to the US by the name of Victor Houteff.
Houteff formed the General Association of Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists, and he and some of his followers moved together to a tract of land outside of Waco.
There, they built a community called the Mount Carmel Center, which served as the headquarters for the movement.
Houteff died in 1955, at which point his wife Florence took control of the Davidian organisation. That same year, Roden - a follower of Houteff - proclaimed what he said to be a new message from God.
Pictured: The flag of the Branch Davidians flies over their Waco compound in 1993, as two Houston attorneys leave the Mount Carmel Center after trying to end a siege
He wrote a series of letters presenting the message to the Davidians, and those that accepted this became the Branch Davidians Seventh Day Adventists.
Meanwhile, in 1957, Florence sold the original Mount Carmel Centre and purchased 941 acres of land near Elk, Texas.
She named the property the New Mount Carmel Centre, not knowing it would become the site of a siege forever imprinted on American history.
After Florence's doomsday predictions failed to materialise in April 1959, she dissolved the Davidian Association in 1962.
Roden took possession of New Mount Carmel in 1962 and eventually took over the whole plot of land it was on. From this point, it was simply known as 'Mount Carmel'.
Roden died in 1978, three years before a young named Vernon Howell arrived at the centre, and studied biblical philosophy under Roden's widow Lois.
Howell - also known as David Koresh - began to form a group of followers. Things escalated after Lois's death, when Koresh said he had found a document claiming to be the president of the Davidians, and took control of much of the cult.
Journalist Mary Garafolo, who covered the events at Waco, said of Koresh: 'He claimed that when he was a child, God had spoken to him and said, 'You're the chosen one. You are my messiah.'' Others described him as a 'drifter' and had a car that he claimed the Lord had given to him.
Pictured: Branch Davidian leader David Koresh
Pictured: Flames engulf the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, April 19, 1993
On how he was able to seize control of much of the group, former Davidian David Bunds told ABC news: 'His message changed over the years because he was always looking for the next big thing to teach that would shock people into listening to him.
'It was important for David Koresh… to isolate the group from the world because the world is an influence that is constantly pulling and distracting you from the message.'
In 1987, Koresh went to Mount Carmel and was involved in a shootout with George Roden - the son of Benjamin and Lois . He then took over the land.
This ultimately led to the events of 1993 - the infamous Waco siege.
A 51-day standoff between federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and members of the Branch Davidians - led by Koresh.
More than 70 Branch Davidians, including Koresh, died inside the compound. Authorities said the Branch Davidians started the blaze.
The nearly two-month siege began when agents from the ATF attempted to execute search and arrest warrants at the Mount Carmel Center ranch on February 28, 1993, suspecting Koresh of stockpiling weapons.
The botched raid resulted in a gun battle that left an initial six Branch Davidians and four agents dead. The FBI and Koresh entered into weeks of negotiations, during which Koresh allowed some women and children to leave.
The Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, is shown engulfed by flames in April 20, 1993
This May 12, 1993, file photo, shows the charred remains of the Branch Davidians' 77-acre ranch east of Waco, Texas
He told federal agents he was waiting for 'further instruction from God.'
The FBI finally led an assault on the ranch on April 19, using heavy weaponry such as .50 calibre (12.7 mm) rifles and armoured combat engineering vehicles (CEV) to fight against the heavily armed cultists.
The siege led to the buildings burning to the ground, after three fires broke out across the compound simultaneously. The government maintains that the fires were started by the cultists - either deliberately or accidentally.
Some of the Branch Davidians were found fatally shot by other members, some died of suffocation and smoke inhalation.
Koresh was found dead with a gunshot wound to the forehead.
Order of the Solar Temple (France/Switzerland/Canada)
The Order of the Solar temple is another religious group-turned cult, and claims to be based on the ideals of the Knights Templar.
However - founded by Joseph di Mambro and Luc Jouret in 1984 in Geneva - the name has become associated with far more than ancient military orders.
In a 1975 book, an author laid out goals later adopted by the group.
There were to: prepare for the Second Coming of Christ as a solar god-king; establish the 'correct notions of authority and power in the world'; affirm the primacy of the spiritual over the temporal; assist humanity through a great 'transition'; and unify of all Christian churches and Islam.
The OTS's central authority was the secretive Synarchy of the Temple. Within that, 33 top members made up the Elder Brothers of the Rosy Cross based in Zurich.
Lodges - found across the globe in Quebec, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, Martinique and others - were run by a regional commander and three elders, and progression through the Order was by levels and grades.
Pictured: Police and firemen lay out the bodies of persons found at a farm on October 05, 1994 in Cheiry, Fribourg county, Switzerland. On the 4th and the 5th of October, 25 and 23 people were found dead, respectively, in Salvan and Cheiry villages in a mass suicide connected to the Order of the Solar Temple
Each lodge had altars, performed rituals and wore costumes - and during ceremonies members wore Crusader-type robes. A sword - which Di Mambro claimed was an authentic Templar artefact - was also used in rituals.
But in October 1994, things took a horrific turn. The infant son of a man named Tony Dutoit, aged just three months, was killed at the group's Morin-Heights centre in Quebec, Canada. The baby was stabbed repeatedly by a wooden stake.
It is believed that Di Mambro ordered the murder after claiming to have identified the baby as the Antichrist described in the bible.
Some time after the killing, Di Mambro and twelve followers performed a ritual Last Supper, before mass suicides and murders were carried out in Cheiry and Salvan - two villages in Western Switzerland.
At Morin-Heights, 15 inner-circle members committed suicide with poison, while 30 others were killed by bullets or through smothering.
Eight more were killed by other means.
Di Mambro was among the dead in Salvan.
Many of the victims in Switzerland were found in a secret underground chapel lined with mirrors, and dressed in ceremonial robes - lying in a circle. Most had plastic bags over their heads - and had each been shot in the head. Evidence was found to suggest that many of the victims had been drugged before being shot.
The deaths all occurred around the time of the solstice, with Swiss police discovering a document which read: 'The next big voyage will take place on the night of a solstice.'
Quebec Police Force spokesman Pierre Robichaud (left) on March 27, 1997 displays, capes, a sword (also seen right) and a crucifix found inside the burned-out St. Casimir house in relation with the five victims of a suicide pact
Rescue workers sift through rubble of house where two members of the order of The Solar Temple cult bodies were found in Montreal, Canada
Elsewhere, victims were found in three sky chalets, where several dead children were found lying together. A mayor, journalist and civil servant were also found among the dead in Switzerland.
Records seized in Quebec found some members had donated more than 1 million Canadian dollars to Di Mambro.
Another mass death incident took place between 15 and 16 of December 1995, this time in the French Vercors mountains. It was found that two of the dead had shot the others before killing themselves. The dead, 13 adults and three children, were again found in a circle - feet on the inside - around the remains of a campfire.
Among the dead was Olympian Edith Bonlieu.
Less than two years later in March 1997, a further five members of the OTS took their own lives in Quebec. They were found after a small house erupted in flames.
Dozens of people died in total in incidents linked to the OTS.
The cult of Ca Van Liem (Vietnam)
A lesser-known cult-related mass-suicide was that involving the cult of Ca Van Liem.
Liem was a blind man who self-proclaimed himself to be a prophet and the king of Ta He, a small hamlet in Vietnam found some 180 miles northwest of Hanoi.
He promised his followers - most of whom were impoverished or illiterate hill tribe villagers - a fast road to paradise if they gave him donations of cash.
This saw him rack up about 10,000 dollars worth of donations by October 1990 - a huge sum of money for people living in that region of Vietnam.
It was at this point that Liem persuaded 53 of his followers to kill each other - promising that it would allow them to quickly enter paradise.
Using flintlock guns and other primitive weapons, the villagers took it in turns to take each-other's lives.
It is not clear why Ca Van Liem convinced his followers to kill themselves, but one school of thought is that he feared being uncovered as a fraud.
He was never caught, and is thought to still be on the run.
Kenyan starvation cult
The discovery of dozens of bodies buried in Shakahola forest near the coastal town of Malindi shocked Kenyans, with cult leader Paul Mackenzie Nthenge accused of driving his followers to death by preaching that starvation was the only path to God.
The gruesome saga, which has been dubbed the 'Shakahola Forest Massacre', has shocked the world and has prompted calls for a crackdown on fringe religious outfits in the largely Christian country.
Coast Regional Coordinator Rhoda Onyancha Onyancha said on Wednesday that 39 people had been found alive so far in the 800-acre bush around Shakahola, while 22 people have been arrested. As of Friday, 109 bodies have been found.
Hassan Musa, a Kenya Red Cross official, told AFP news agency that 311 people, including 150 minors, had been reported missing to its support staff in Malindi.
Pictured: An aerial view shows the mass-grave site in Shakahola, outside the coastal town of Malindi, on April 25
'We are talking about people mostly from Kenya, but also from Tanzania and Nigeria. Some have been missing for years.'
'We don't know how many more graves, how many more bodies, we are likely to discover,' Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki told reporters during a visit to the site on Tuesday, adding the crimes were serious enough to warrant terrorism charges against Nthenge.
Most of the dead were children, according to three sources close to the investigation, highlighting the macabre nature of the cult's alleged practices, which included urging parents to starve their offspring.
Hussein Khalid, executive director of the rights group Haki Africa, which tipped off police about Nthenge's activities, said the pastor's Good News International Church appeared to require children to starve first, followed by women, and finally men.
He said 50 to 60 percent of the victims were children, whose bodies were found wrapped in cotton shrouds inside shallow pits.
Kenya's President William Ruto has vowed to take action against rogue pastors like Nthenge 'who want to use religion to advance weird, unacceptable ideology'.
Officials seemed to have heeded this call on Thursday with the arrest of one of the country's highest-profile pastors, who will face charges over the 'mass killing of his followers' just days after the discovery of the bodies.
As the investigation unfolds, questions have emerged about how the cult was able to operate undetected despite Nthenge attracting police attention six years ago.
The televangelist had been arrested in 2017 on charges of 'radicalisation' after urging families not to send their children to school.
He said education was not recognised by the Bible.
Body bags are laid out at the scene where dozens of bodies have been found in shallow graves in the village of Shakahola, near the coastal city of Malindi, in southern Kenya Monday, April 24
Pastor Paul Makenzi, who was arrested on suspicion of telling his followers to fast to death in order to meet Jesus, accompanied by some of his followers, appears at a court in Malindi, Kenya on Monday, April 17
Nthenge was arrested again last month, according to local media, after two children starved to death in the custody of their parents.
He was released on bail of 100,000 Kenyan shillings ($700) before surrendering to police following the Shakahola raid. Nthenge is due to appear in court on May 2.
The remains of over 80 people, including children, have been discovered in Kenya’s Shakahola Forest as the police continue to investigate the leader of a Christian cult who allegedly told his followers that they would go to heaven if they starved themselves to death.
Following reports from locals and activists after a number of people had gone missing around the town of Malindi, Kenya, police raided the Good News International Church two weeks ago. Multiple followers of the church were found emaciated and unable to walk or talk. Eight of the victims who were found alive have since died.
Deceased parishioners were discovered in shallow graves in the Shakahola forest, and the incident has been dubbed the “Shakahola Forest Massacre.” The church’s followers were allegedly taught by pastor Paul Mackenzie Nthenge that salvation could be achieved through extreme fasting practises and were reportedly encouraged to starve themselves to meet Jesus.
The Kenyan police have sealed and declared the Shakahola forest a crime scene and continue to investigate a 325-hectare area of the forest as multiple shallow graves have not yet been examined by forensic experts. Nthenge, a taxi driver turned pastor, relocated to the area in 2022 and had been arrested twice before the Shakahola massacre. The pastor was first arrested in 2019 and again in March of this year in relation to the deaths of children but was released on bond each time.
Nthenge is currently in police custody and due in court on May 2. Local officials have urged the court not to release the suspected cult leader during this current investigation.