Kenya cult death toll passes 300, with more exhumations planned

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The Gaurdian

More than 600 people still missing, authorities say, amid reports pastor ordered followers to starve themselves

The death toll linked to a Kenyan pastor accused of ordering his followers to starve themselves to death to meet Jesus has passed 300, with the figure expected to increase as more exhumations are planned.

Authorities say the dead were members of the Good News international church, led by Paul Mackenzie, who is accused of ordering his followers to starve themselves and their children to death so they could go to heaven before the end of the world.

The toll reached 303 after 19 more bodies were exhumed from mass graves in Shakahola forest, in south-east Kenya, where the self-styled pastor and his followers lived.

More than 600 people have been reported missing, a regional official, Rhoda Onyancha, said. Investigators last week expanded their search for victims to cover a wider area in the region.

Man in striped shirt behind green bars

The leader of the cult, Paul Mackenzie, in court in Mombasa, Kenya, on 2 June. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

About 65 rescued followers were charged with attempted suicide on Monday after they refused to eat between 6 and 10 June during their stay at a rescue centre, local media reported.

The interior minister, Kithure Kindiki, expressed concern last month that some of Mackenzie’s rescued followers were refusing food. One had died, he said.

Mackenzie handed himself to police in April and was denied bail last month. He has not yet been required to enter a plea.

He was arrested on suspicion of the murder of two children by starvation and suffocation earlier this year, but was subsequently freed. Relatives of his followers say he then returned to the forest and moved forward his predicted date for the end of the world from August to 15 April.

Mackenzie is expected back in court this week, with police granted more time to hold him pending investigations.