Children represent the majority of 109 Bodies recovered so far from mass graves linked to a cult in Kenya, the home minister said on Friday, handing over the latest details of a case that has shocked the country and prompted calls for stricter regulation of fringe religious groups.
It is said that followers of the Good News International Church near the coastal town of Malindi they believed they would go to heaven if they starved to death.
“The reports we receive are that many of the recoveries are of children…Children are the majority, followed by women. Men are less,” Minister Kithure Kindiki told reporters.
“Preliminary reports we received are that some of the victims may not have starved to death. Other methods were used, including wounding them, based on physical and preliminary observations.Kindiki said.
Kindiki, who called those responsible for the deaths terrorists, also announced the launch of an aerial search over the Shakahola forest, where the bodies were found and are being exhumed. He said autopsies on the recovered bodies would begin on Monday.
The government would announce new measures governing churches next week, he said.
Good News International Church leader Paul Mackenzie has been in police custody since April 14. Kenyan media say he is accused of persuading his supporters to starve.
Mackenzie has not made any public comments. Reuters spoke to two lawyers representing Mackenzie, but both declined to comment on the allegations against him.
Pastor Ezekiel Odero, of an unrelated nearby church, was arrested Thursday. He appeared in court in the coastal city of Mombasa on Friday but was not charged and ordered to return to court on Tuesday. He remained in police custody.
A police document filed in court and seen by Reuters says police established there were several deaths at Odero’s New Life Ministry between 2022 and 2023 and that those bodies may have been moved to the Shakahola forest.
Police are investigating Odero for crimes including murder, assisted suicide, kidnapping and child cruelty, according to the document.
Odero’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On Thursday, he did not answer questions from reporters as he was escorted to a police station.
(With information from Reuters)
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