Kenya court orders cult leader detained further in massacre case

AFP , Wednesday 10 May 2023

A Kenyan court on Wednesday ordered a doomsday cult leader accused of the deaths of dozens of people to be held behind bars for three more weeks.

Ezekiel Odero
Self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie (2nd L), who set up the Good News International Church in 2003 and is accused of inciting cult followers to starve to death to meet Jesus , appears in the dock with his wife Rhoda Mumbua Maweu (2nd R) and other co-accused at the Shanzu law courts in Mombasa on May 5, 2023. AFP

 

Paul Nthenge Mackenzie faces terrorism charges over what has been dubbed the "Shakahola Forest Massacre" after the grisly discovery last month of mass graves near the Indian Ocean town of Malindi.

A total of 133 people have been confirmed dead, many of them children, after investigators said Tuesday they had unearthed another 21 bodies from the forest site.

A court in the port city of Mombasa ordered Mackenzie, his wife, and 16 other suspects held for 30 days, dating from his first court appearance when he was arraigned on May 2.

Magistrate Yusuf Shikanda said that releasing the suspects would jeopardize their safety as well as the ongoing investigation.

Prosecutors had been seeking their detention for another 90 days.

Police believe most of the bodies found near Malindi were followers of Mackenzie, a taxi driver-turned-preacher who is accused of inciting them to starve to death "to meet Jesus."

While starvation appears to be the main cause of death, some of the victims -- including children -- were strangled, beaten or suffocated, according to chief government pathologist Johansen Oduor.

Court documents filed on Monday said some of the corpses had their organs removed, with police alleging the suspects were engaged in forced harvesting of body parts.

But Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki urged caution.

"It is a theory we are investigating. The reports that came from the morgue are still being finalised and I do not want to pre-empt the matter," he told reporters on Tuesday.

Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha has said that as many as 500 people have been reported missing, including from villages around the forest.

Mackenzie, who founded the Good News International Church in 2003, turned himself in on April 14 after police acting on a tip-off first entered Shakahola forest.

The case has stunned Christian-majority Kenya and led President William Ruto to set up a commission of inquiry into the deaths and a task force to review regulations governing religious bodies.

Another pastor accused of links to Mackenzie and to the bodies found in the forest was released on bail at a court hearing last Thursday.

Ezekiel Odero, a high-profile and wealthy televangelist, is being investigated on a raft of charges including murder, aiding suicide, abduction, radicalisation, crimes against humanity, child cruelty, fraud and money laundering.

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