(AFP) — The death toll in an investigation linked to a Kenyan cult that practised starvation to “meet Jesus Christ” has exceeded 400 after 12 more bodies were found on Monday, a senior official said.
“Total death Toll – 403,” Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha told AFP in a message, following the latest round of exhumations in the Shakahola forest, where cult leader Paul Nthenge Mackenzie allegedly urged followers to starve to death.
“Exhumation continues tomorrow,” Onyancha added, as investigators search for more graves in the forest, where the first victims — some dead, others alive but weakened and emaciated — were discovered on April 13.
According to government autopsies, starvation appears to have been the main cause of death, although some victims — including children — were strangled, beaten, or suffocated.
Mackenzie, a former taxi driver-turned-preacher, has been in police custody since mid-April.
On July 3, a court in the port city of Mombasa extended his detention by a month pending investigations.
State prosecutors have said he is facing terrorism or genocide-related charges, but he has not yet been required to enter any plea.
Questions have been raised about how Mackenzie, a self-proclaimed pastor and a father of seven, managed to evade law enforcement despite a history of extremism and previous legal cases.