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Kenya religious cult: Police dig up more bodies

Security officers stand next to holes after exhuming bodies at the mass-grave site in Shakahola, outside the coastal town of Malindi, on April 25, 2023   -  
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The death toll from the "Shakahola massacre" in a forest in southeastern Kenya, where a sect whose leader advocated fasting to "meet Jesus" was meeting, has now risen to 201 after the discovery of 22 new bodies on Saturday, the region's prefect announced.

Police believe that most of the bodies discovered near the coastal town of Malindi are those of followers of the sect of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a former cab driver, self-proclaimed "pastor" of the Good News International Church that he created.

The area prefect, Rhoda Onyancha, said 26 people have been arrested so far, including Paul Nthenge Mackenzie and a "gang of goons" responsible for making sure no followers broke the fast or escaped from the forest.

Paul Mackenzie had surrendered to the authorities on April 14, after the police discovered the first victims in the Shakahola forest. About 50 mass graves have been discovered since then.

Investigators will pause the exhumations over the next two days to reorganize their operations, which are expected to resume on Tuesday, Onyancha said.

Autopsies on the first bodies indicate that most of the victims died of starvation, most likely after following the preaching of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie.

Some victims, however, including children, were strangled, beaten or suffocated, said the head of forensic operations, Johansen Oduor, recently.

The massacre has rekindled the debate over the regulation of religious worship in Kenya, a predominantly Christian country with 4,000 "churches," according to official figures.

President William Ruto has set up a task force to "review the legal and regulatory framework governing religious organizations".

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