February 23, 2024

Kenya cult leader Paul Mackenzie faces terror charges over mass deaths

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Paul Mackenzie was arrested in April after the discovery of hundreds of bodies, some of whom were said to have starved themselves to death.

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BBC

A suspected Kenyan cult leader is to be charged with murder and terrorism over the deaths of more than 400 people found in mass graves, prosecutors say.

Paul Mackenzie was arrested in April after the discovery of hundreds of bodies, some of whom were said to have starved themselves to death.

Kenyan prosecutors say that he and 94 others will be charged in court in Malindi on Wednesday.

The self-proclaimed pastor has denied responsibility for the deaths.

The bodies of 429 people, including children, have been dug up from grave sites in Shakahola, a remote forest about two hours’ drive west of Malindi. Most showed signs of starvation, but some – children among them – may have been assaulted.

Mr Mackenzie is alleged to have encouraged members of his Good News International Church to move there and prepare for the end of the world.

One witness told the BBC that people were given instructions in January last year to begin fasting so that they could “get to heaven”.

But Mr Mackenzie has said the deaths could not be down to him as he closed his church in 2019.

Investigators had asked for his time in custody to be extended several times as they continued their investigation.

They said their inquiries had now gathered enough evidence to charge him and the others with offences including murder, assault and “facilitating the commission of a terrorist act”.

They are also facing a charge of “subjecting a child to torture”, according to a statement from the director of public prosecutions.

The charges were listed a week after the court gave the prosecutors a fortnight’s deadline to make them public or face the possibility that the suspects could be released.

Out of the 95 suspects, 64 had been found in Shakahola and were initially treated as victims and moved to a rescue centre.

However, investigators later found that many of them had children who had died in the forest.

Some of them had given false names and identities and failed to account for their children.

Mr Mackenzie was convicted last November of illegally operating a film studio associated with his preaching and distributing films without a valid filming licence.

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