Search resumes for Kenyan cult victims of 'highly organised crime'

Tuesday May 09 2023
mass graves in Kenya's Shakahola forest

Emergency workers prepare to resume the exhumation of mass graves in Kenya's Shakahola forest on May 9, 2023. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NMG


Kenyan investigators have resumed the search for members of a doomsday cult in a forest where more than 100 corpses, mostly of children, have been exhumed, victims of a "highly organised crime", Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said on Tuesday.

Paul Mackenzie, leader of the Good News International Church, has been detained and accused of ordering his followers to starve their children and themselves to death so they could go to heaven before the end of the world, which he predicted was going to happen on April 15.

With hundreds of people still thought to be missing, the search operation in the Shakahola forest in south eastern Kenya had been suspended for a few days because of bad weather but has now restarted, Kindiki said during a visit.

"We have many more graves in this forest, and therefore it leads us to conclude that this was a highly organised crime," Kindiki told reporters.

Roseline Asena

Roseline Asena (C) sits with other relatives of victims of the Shakahola forest massacre as they follow court proceedings during the arraignment of the main suspect Paul Mackenzie on May 2, 2023. PHOTO | SIMON MAINA | AFP

Search and rescue


He said on Twitter that post-mortem on 112 bodies exhumed or recovered from Shakahola had been concluded. Search and rescue efforts for people "suspected to be holed up in the thickets and bushes have been going on".

President William Ruto on Friday announced the formation of a commission of inquiry into the mass deaths, while a court kept Mackenzie in detention pending further investigations.

Mackenzie has not yet been required to enter a plea to any criminal charges. Two lawyers acting for him have declined to comment on the accusations against him.

Kenyan cult leader Paul Nthenge Mackenzie

Kenyan cult leader Paul Nthenge Mackenzie (C) appears at the Shanzu Law Courts in Mombasa on May 5, 2023. Kenyan President William Ruto on Friday appointed a commission of inquiry into the deaths of more than 100 people believed to have starved themselves to death. PHOTO | SIMON MAINA | AFP

Odero freed on bail

Last week a court released on bail prominent televangelist Ezekiel Odero, whom authorities had said they suspected of being involved in the mass killing of his own followers.

Unlike in Mackenzie's case, police and authorities have not said anything about any bodies being found.

Odero is also suspected of helping launder money for Mackenzie, according to court documents seen by Reuters in which police say "huge cash transactions" thought to be linked to the sale of houses belonging to Mackenzie's followers were traced to Odero's bank accounts.

Reuters could not immediately reach a lawyer representing Odero.