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Kenya 'Doomsday Cult' Death Toll Tops 400

FILE - Body bags are laid out at the scene where dozens of bodies have been found in shallow graves in the village of Shakahola, near the coastal city of Malindi, in southern Kenya on April 24, 2023.

NAIROBI — The number of people who died in connection with Kenya’s doomsday cult has crossed the 400 mark as detectives exhumed 12 more bodies on Monday believed to be followers of a pastor who ordered them to fast to death in order to meet Jesus.

Pastor Paul Mackenzie, who is linked to the cult based in a forested area in Malindi, coastal Kenya, is in police custody, along with 36 other suspects. All have yet to be charged.

Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha on Monday said the number of those who died has risen to 403, with 95 people rescued.

Last month, some suspects and people rescued started a hunger strike in prison and at the rescue center, prompting the prosecutor to take them to court for attempting to kill themselves. Most of them agreed to resume eating, but one suspect died in custody.

Some 613 people have so far been reported missing to Kenya Red Cross officers stationed in Malindi town. Detectives are still finding mass graves.

Onyancha said 253 of the 403 bodies had undergone DNA matching. Pathologists had earlier said most of the bodies were decomposed.

Mackenzie moved to the forested area in 2019 after his church was closed over his preaching, which included asking children not to go to school.

He was previously arrested and released on bond over the disappearance of children.

A judicial commission of inquiry formed by President William Ruto to establish what happened and who was liable was quashed by a court order after opposition leader Raila Odinga filed a petition against it.

The president had said what transpired in Malindi was “akin to terrorism” and vowed to crack down on “those using religion to advance their heinous acts”.