On Saturday, search teams investigating a Kenyan cult that practiced starvation discovered 22 additional bodies in a coastal forest, bringing the death toll in the investigation to 201, according to government officials cited in an AFP report.
According to the authorities, most of the corpses found in a forest close to the coastal town of Malindi in Kenya are believed to be followers of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie.
Rhoda Onyancha, the Coast Regional Commissioner, while announcing the latest figures, revealed that 26 individuals, including Mackenzie and an “enforcer gang” have been arrested over the deaths. The enforcer gang was reportedly assigned to ensure that no one broke their fast or left the forest hideout alive.
During a court hearing last week, Ezekiel Odero, a prominent and wealthy televangelist, was granted bail. Odero is under investigation for multiple charges, such as murder, aiding suicide, abduction, radicalisation, crimes against humanity, child cruelty, fraud, and money laundering, and is also suspected of having connections to Mackenzie and the bodies discovered in the forest.
Investigators will halt exhumations for two days to reorganise their efforts, with the process to resume on Tuesday, according to Onyancha.
As per the Coast Regional Commissioner, over 600 people have been reported missing, including from villages around the forest.
Mackenzie, the founder of the Good News International Church, is accused of inciting his followers to starve themselves to death in order to “meet Jesus.”
The 50-year-old taxi driver turned preacher surrendered on April 14 after police acting on a tip-off first entered the Shakahola forest.
Most of his victims appear to have died of starvation. However, as per the AFP report quoting chief government pathologist Johansen Oduor, some of the victims, including children, were strangled, beaten, or suffocated.
Some of the corpses had their organs removed, according to court documents filed on Monday.
This has given rise to allegations that the suspects were engaged in forced harvesting of body parts.
However, the nation’s Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the organ harvesting suspicions, stating that “it is a theory we are investigating.”