Kenya police exhume remains from suspected Christian cult graves

Kenyan police have exhumed human remains from more than a dozen suspected graves in the east of the country amid an investigation into followers of a Christian cult who believed they would go to heaven if they starved themselves to death.

Police began exhuming bodies on Friday, said Charles Kamau, a detective in the town of Malindi near the Shakahola forest in Kilifi county, where police rescued 15 members of the Good News International Church last week, according to footage broadcast by Citizen TV.Unnamed police sources told the AFP news agency on Saturday that 21 bodies had been found so far and that more could yet be uncovered.

“In total since yesterday, we have 21 bodies,” a police source told AFP on condition of anonymity, referring to exhumations in the Shakahola forest outside the coastal town of Malindi.

“We have not even scratched the surface which gives a clear indication that we are likely to get more bodies by the end of this exercise,” the source added. A second police source confirmed the same toll, also on condition of anonymity, AFP reported.

Kenya’s NTV channel reported on Saturday that seven bodies had been removed from two of 32 suspected gravesites marked out by police.

The leader of the church, Paul Mackenzie, also identified in reports as Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, was arrested, the Reuters news agency reported. Mackenzie’s lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment. NTV reported that Mckenzie has staged a hunger strike in his cell since his arrest last week.Titus Katana, a former church member, helped police identify the graves.

“We have shown the graves to the police, and in addition, we have saved the life of a woman who only had a few hours left, otherwise she’d also be dead,” Katana told Citizen TV.

Matthew Shipeta from Haki Africa, a human rights group, said he had seen at least 15 shallow graves in the forest.

Helen Mikali, the manager of a children’s home who was also helping investigators, said she had visited several nearby villages where parents and children had disappeared.

“Personally I have visited about 18 children’s graves,” Mikali told Citizen TV. She did not say how she knew the graves contained the remains of children.Last month police arrested and later released Mackenzie for encouraging the parents of two boys to starve and suffocate their children to death.

During a court appearance in that case, Mackenzie said he was unaware of the events that led to the deaths of the two boys, adding he was the target of hostile propaganda from some of his former colleagues, The Standard newspaper reported.

Local media reported that six of Mackenzie’s associates were also arrested.

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