(Malindi) The macabre tally continues in Shakahola Forest, eastern Kenya: 16 new bodies of members of a cult advocating extreme fasting were found on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 89 in this arousing case. horror and outrage.
This death toll — which includes children — is tentative as research continues at the site of what has come to be known as the “Shakahola Forest Massacre.”
“We don’t know how many mass graves, how many bodies we’re going to find,” said Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki, visiting the site in the early afternoon, announcing the discovery of six new bodies after a ten earlier in the morning.
A total of 34 people were also “found alive”, he added.
The minister raised the possibility of bringing “terrorism” charges against Paul Mackenzie Nthenge, the self-proclaimed “pastor” of this group called the Good News International Church which advocated fasting to meet Jesus.
On Monday, President William Ruto called him a “terrorist” and promised tough action against those “who want to use religion to advance a shady and unacceptable ideology.”
For several days, investigators have been turning over the red soil of a vast area of ”bush” of 325 hectares, not far from the coastal town of Malindi, where dozens of mass graves could be found.
An investigator told AFP on Monday that up to six people were buried in the same grave, while other bodies were found on the ground.
The influx of bodies already found has saturated the Malindi sub-county hospital morgue, hospital administrator Said Ali told AFP.
“The hospital morgue has a capacity of 40 bodies,” he said, indicating that the Red Cross had been asked to provide refrigerated containers.
Teams are also engaged in a time trial to find survivors.
“With each passing day, there is a very strong possibility that others will die,” warned Hussein Khalid, executive director of the NGO Haki Africa, which had alerted the police to the actions of the International Church of Good News.
“The horror we have seen over the past four days is traumatic. Nothing prepares you for shallow graves containing children,” he added.
According to the Kenya Red Cross, 212 people have been reported missing at its on-site tracing office.
This case raises many questions about flaws on the part of the police and judicial authorities, who had known the implicated “pastor” for several years.
A former taxi driver who started his church in 2003, Paul Mackenzie Nthenge was arrested in 2017 on charges of “radicalization” for advocating not putting children in school, saying education is not recognized in the Bible.
He was arrested again in March after two children starved to death in the care of their parents, who then buried them. He was released on bail of 100,000 Kenyan shillings (about $1,000).
He is in custody after turning himself in to police on April 14, after a search began in Shakahola Forest. He appeared in court the following day, and is due to be heard again on May 2.
The scandal has also rekindled the debate over the control of cults in Kenya, a predominantly Christian country, where “pastors”, “churches” and other marginal religious movements make headlines.
Mr. Kindiki said on Sunday that this massacre must lead to “not only the most severe punishment for the perpetrator(s) of the atrocity…but also stricter regulation (including self-regulation) of every church, mosque, temple or synagogue in the future”.