Kenyan cult leader charged with terrorism over mass starvation deaths
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Kenyan cult leader charged with terrorism over mass starvation deaths

The self-proclaimed leader of an evangelical dopocalyptic cult in Kenya has appeared in court in Mombasa, charged with terrorism after he allegedly urged more than 400 of his followers to starve to death.

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Self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie appeared in court in the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa on Monday along with 94 co-accused.

The defendants also face charges of murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, torture and child abuse in separate cases.

At the first hearing in January, all pleaded guilty.

Mackenzie, arrested in April 2023, is alleged to have urged his followers to starve to death so they could “meet Jesus.”

So far, the remains of more than 440 people have been discovered in a remote area inland, near the coastal city of Malindi, in an incident dubbed the “Shakahola Forest Massacre.”

Autopsies showed that while the primary cause of death was likely starvation, some victims – including children – had been strangled, beaten or crushed.

Previous court documents show that some of the bodies had their organs removed.

Kenyan cult leader charged with terrorism over mass starvation deaths
Mackenzie in the Malindi High Court in Malindi on February 6, 2024. AFP—

Security breach

Mackenzie, a former taxi driver, founded Good News International Church in 2003.

He turned himself in to police on April 14 last year after police, acting on a tip-off, entered the Shakahola forest and discovered mass graves.

In March, authorities began releasing the bodies of some victims to their distraught families after months of painstaking work to identify them through DNA.

Questions have been raised as to how Mackenzie, a self-proclaimed pastor with extremist leanings, managed to avoid prosecution despite his high profile and previous court cases.

“The Shakahola massacre is the worst security breach in the history of our country,” Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki told a Senate committee, where he promised to “press relentlessly for legal reforms to curb rogue preachers.”

Kindiki accused Kenyan police of indecisiveness when they began investigating the first reports of famine.

In March, the state-backed Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) criticised security officials in Malindi for “gross dereliction of duty and negligence”.

Kenya is a majority Christian country and President William Ruto has announced intervention in indigenous religious movements.

(with news agencies)