Kenyan President William Ruto said the mass killing of religious communities was tantamount to terrorism.
Kenyan police have so far recovered 73 bodies, most of them from mass graves in a forest in eastern Kenya, believed to be followers of a Christian sect that believes they will go to heaven if they starve themselves, authorities said.
And the death toll, which has risen repeatedly as exhumations have taken place, may rise even further. The Kenya Red Cross said 112 people had been reported missing to a tracing and counseling office it set up at a local hospital.
Followers of the self-proclaimed Good News International Church lived in several isolated settlements in a 324-hectare (800-acre) area within the Shakahola Forest.
Malindi County Police Chief John Kemboi told the Associated Press news agency that the death toll was 73, with 26 new bodies exhumed on Monday.
Kemboi said the investigators received reinforcements and were able to cover more ground.
The sect’s leader, Paul Mackenzie, was arrested on April 14 after a tip-off indicated shallow graves containing the bodies of at least 31 of his followers. National Police Chief Japhet Comey said 14 other members of the cult were in custody.
McKenzie was brought to trial on 15 April at the Malindi Law Courts, where the judge gave the police 14 days to conduct investigations while he was in custody. Kenyan media reported that he was refusing food and water.
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“What we’re seeing … looks like terrorism,” Kenyan President William Ruto said on Monday.
Ruto said he has instructed law enforcement agencies to thoroughly investigate the matter as a criminal case unrelated to any religion.
Ruto, who was elected in 2022, was dubbed the country’s first evangelical Christian president and was not ashamed of his faith, praying publicly and crying in churches before his election.
Many pastors have been nominated in Parliament and government bodies such as the Anti-Corruption Commission.
Mackenzie has been arrested twice before – in 2019 and March this year – in connection with the deaths of children. Each time, he was released on bail, and both cases are still pending in court.
Local politicians urged the court not to release him this time, and denounced the spread of caste in the Malindi region.
Cults are common in Kenya, which has a largely religious society.
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