Kenyan police have so far recovered 58 bodies from mass graves in a forest in eastern Kenya, thought to be followers of a Christian cult who believed they would go to heaven if they starved themselves.
“Police rescued 29 alive, while 58 people have been confirmed dead, among them 50 bodies exhumed from shallow graves,” Kenya’s National Police Service tweeted Monday evening.
Paul Mackenzie Nthege, the leader of the cult, known as the Good News International Church was arrested after police received a tip-off that his vast land on the Shakahola forest in the Kilifi County of eastern Kenya, contained mass graves.
Police clad in overalls have been scouring the site in the coastal town of Malindi since Friday when they have found increasing number of bodies each day.
There are fears the numbers could rise as the Kenya Red Cross said about 200 people had been reported missing to its staff at Malindi.
Kenya’s President William Ruto branded Mackenzie a “terrible criminal,” whose actions were “akin to terrorists.”
The case has sent shockwaves through Kenya and the government has vowed tighter regulations on religious bodies and organisations.
Kenya is a deeply religious country and has had problems in the past with unregulated churches and cults.
Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said the entire 800-acre forest where the graves had been found had been sealed off and declared a scene of crime.
“This horrendous blight on our conscience must lead not only to the most severe punishment of the perpetrator(s) of the atrocity on so many innocent souls, but tighter regulation (including self-regulation) of every church, mosque, temple or synagogue going forward,” Kindiki added.