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Death toll in Kenyan starvation cult reaches 73: Police

Kenyan police uncovered 73 dead, largely from mass graves in a forest in eastern Kenya, believed to be members of a Christian cult who believed starving themselves would get them into paradise, a police officer said on Monday.

The death toll, which has climbed periodically as exhumations have been performed, could grow even further. According to the Kenyan Red Cross, 112 persons have gone missing and have been reported to a tracking and counselling desk set up at a local hospital.

The cult’s leader, Paul Mackenzie, was apprehended on April 14 after a tip led to the discovery of shallow graves containing the deaths of at least 31 of his followers.

“The death toll now stands at 73 people,” Charles Kamau, chief investigator in Malindi, Kilifi County, told Reuters by phone.

He stated that three more people had been apprehended but did not elaborate. According to the privately owned NTV channel, one of those arrested was being held on suspicion of being a close associate of the cult’s leader.

Followers of the self-proclaimed Good News International Church had been residing in many hidden villages within the Shakahola forest, covering an area of 800 acres.

According to the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, 33 persons have been rescued so far.

Earlier on Monday, while visiting the scene, the country’s police commander, Japhet Koome, stated that the majority of the people were discovered in mass graves, and with the exception of eight people who were discovered alive and emaciated but later died.

Koome stated that 14 additional cult members were being held by authorities.

Mackenzie was arraigned in Malindi Law Courts on April 15, and the judge granted police 14 days to continue investigations while he was detained. According to Kenyan media, he is rejecting food and drink.

Reuters was unable to contact Mackenzie’s lawyer or spokesperson.

President William Ruto stated that Mackenzie’s views were incompatible with any genuine faith.

“Mr Mackenzie… poses as a pastor when he is, in fact, a terrible criminal,” said Ruto, who was speaking at an unrelated public event just outside Nairobi.

He stated that he had directed appropriate agencies to investigate what had occurred and to deal with “people who want to use religion to advance weird, unacceptable ideology in the Republic of Kenya that is causing unnecessary loss of life.”

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