Death toll in Kenyan cult case rises to 90 as authorities expand operation

Death toll in Kenyan cult case rises to 90 as authorities expand operation

The death toll at a ranch in coastal Kenya owned by a pastor accused of leading a religious cult has risen to 90, with 17 more bodies exhumed, and the number of missing stands at 213, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society.

Pastor Paul Makenzi is accused of luring his followers to the ranch near Malindi and ordering them to fast to death so that they could meet Jesus before burying them in shallow graves on his land.

He was arrested following a police raid on the property earlier this month and remains in custody. An expanded search and rescue operation has been launched, with Kenya’s interior minister announcing that the entire 800-acre site is now a “disturbed area and an operation zone”.

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Makenzi is accused of leading the Good News International Church. The total number of people rescued from the ranch after being starved now stands at 34. Kenya’s government has also announced that it is to look into another suspected cult in the same Kilifi county.

Muslims for Human Rights Group has called on the government to use aerial surveillance to rescue people more quickly. The autopsies of the bodies will begin on Thursday, but government morgues are already said to be full. The broadcast regulator, Kenya Film and Classification Board, issued a warning in 2017 about Makenzi’s radicalisation-like content on television. Makenzi has previously been arrested twice, in 2019 and March 2023, in relation to the deaths of children.

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He was released on bond each time and both cases are still before the courts. The interior minister has compared the deaths to the 1978 mass suicide of 900 followers of US preacher Jim Jones and to Uganda’s Kanungu cult massacre of 2000, which killed 700 people.

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