Leader of Kenyan 'starvation cult' faces possible terrorism charges

The leader of an alleged Christian cult in Kenya linked to the deaths of more than 100 people is facing possible terrorism charges, his lawyer has said.

Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, the leader of the extreme sect Good News International Church which reportedly encouraged followers to starve themselves to find God, was arrested last month.

At least 109 bodies, including those of children, have so far been recovered by police from a site in the Shakahola forest, in the south-east of the country.

Emergency workers have also been transporting dozens of emaciated cultists to hospital since being tipped off about the operation in April.

Mackenzie appeared in court yesterday along with six other suspects, according to Citizen TV and NTV.

His lawyer George Kariuki told CNN that during his appearance, ‘he was released unconditionally and then rearrested[…] on possible terrorism charges’.

He said his client ‘eats and drinks’, adding: ‘He is healthy. I have met him personally.

‘There have been rumors that he has refused to eat, and that is not true.’

The Kenyan public prosecutions office previously said Mackenzie and the other suspects may have committed crimes including murder, ‘counselling and aiding persons to kill themselves’ and ‘terrorist acts by threatening national security and public safety and radicalisation’.

The leader denies wrongdoing.

Kenyan president William Ruto said his government had ordered a crackdown on ‘people who want to use religion to advance weird, unacceptable ideology’.

Autopsy of the bodies recovered from the site began on Monday, with the country’s Ministry of Interior tweeting it was determined to ‘bring closure to the families of the deceased’.

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The tweet continued: ‘Detectives paused the exhumation process due to bad weather, but the search and rescue has been intensified, with drone technology and choppers deployed to find survivors who may still be stuck in the 800-acre forest land.’

Questions have been raised about how Mackenzie has been permitted to operate.

He had been arrested in 2017 on charges of ‘radicalisation’ after urging families not to send their children to school, saying education was not recognised by the Bible.

The televangelist was arrested again in March, according to local media, after two kids starved to death in the custody of their parents.

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