(Nairobi) 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, now stands at 226 after the discovery on Wednesday of 15 new bodies, announced the prefect of the region.
Police believe most of the bodies discovered near the coastal town of Malindi are those of followers of the sect of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a former taxi driver, self-proclaimed “pastor” of the International Church of Good News (Good News International Church) which he created.
At the end of Wednesday’s operations, “14 bodies were exhumed and one was found in the forest”, said the prefect of the region, Rhoda Onyancha, adding that another person had been found alive by the rescuers.
It appears from the autopsies carried out on the first 112 bodies that most of the victims died of starvation, presumably after having followed the sermons of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, who will be prosecuted for “terrorism”.
However, some victims, including children, were strangled, beaten or suffocated, forensic operations chief Johansen Oduor said two weeks ago.
Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki had urged caution on the matter, saying it was “a theory we are investigating”. “Morgue reports are still being finalized and I don’t want to preempt the case,” he continued.
Paul Mackenzie has been detained since turning himself in to authorities on April 14, after police discovered the first victims in Shakahola Forest. About fifty mass graves have since been discovered.
Kenya’s most influential pastor, Ezekiel Odero, was arrested on April 28 in connection with the case and later released on bail.
He is under investigation because of the possible presence of bodies of some of his followers among the bodies found at Shakahola. More than 20 bank accounts belonging to him were frozen.
This massacre caused a stir in this religious country in East Africa and revived the debate on the supervision of worship in Kenya, a predominantly Christian country with 4,000 “churches”, according to official figures.
President William Ruto established a task force to “review the legal and regulatory framework governing religious organizations.”