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Another Kenyan pastor arrested over 'mass killings' as death toll passes 100 in Christian cult

Police in Kenya arrested Pastor Ezekiel Odero on "criminal charges related to mass killing of his followers". (AP Photo: Maarufu Mohamed)

A Kenyan televangelist has been arrested after reports of the "mass killing of his followers", the interior minister said, as authorities investigated scores of other deaths linked to a religious cult from the same region.

Pastor Ezekiel Odero "is being processed to face criminal charges related to mass killing of his followers", according to a statement by Kenya's interior minister, Kithure Kindiki, who gave no details on how many deaths were linked to this case.

As news of Mr Odero's detention spread, officials said the death toll had now reached 103 in the separate cult investigation that has shocked the nation and prompted calls for a crackdown on religious fringe groups.

Police were still exhuming bodies at a ranch owned by Pastor Paul Mackenzie, where he moved in 2019 after closing his church in Malindi. As part of the move, he reportedly sold his television channel to Mr Odero.

Mr Kindiki made no comment on whether the cases were linked.

Kithure Kindiki (centre, in white shirt) has also been investigating the deaths of cult members buried in Shakahola forest. (AP Photo)

Officials had evacuated followers from Mr Odero's New Life Prayer Centre and Church in the small south-eastern town of Mavueni on the Indian Ocean coast, Mr Kindiki said.

"The said Church has been shut down. The over 100 people who were holed up at the premises have been evacuated and will be required to record statements," Mr Kindiki posted on Twitter.

Mr Odero — dressed in white robes and carrying a thick black book — did not respond to reporters' questions as he was escorted into a police station by a uniformed officer.

He will be questioned overnight and is expected to appear in court on Friday.

Mr Odero's arrest was connected to "allegations of deaths that have been occurring at his premises and reported in various morgues or institutions", regional official Rhoda Onyancha told reporters.

His television channel is popular in Kenyan households, with people travelling from across the country to visit his church.

Mr Odero's YouTube channel boasts more than 400,000 subscribers and has had more than 70 million views.

His mega crusades have, in the past, been attended by senior politicians, including the wife of Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, Pastor Dorcas Rigathi.

Forest cult death toll continues to rise

Members of the Christian cult were reportedly told they would go to heaven if they starved themselves to death. (Reuters)

The town of Mavueni is about 66 kilometres from the Shakahola forest where cult leader Paul Mackenzie is accused of ordering his followers to starve themselves to death so they would be the first to go to heaven ahead of what he predicted would be the end of the world on April 15.

Mr Mackenzie has been in police custody since April 14 and has made no public comment about the charges.

Since Friday, investigators have unearthed the bodies of 95 members of his self-proclaimed Good News International Church from shallow graves in the forest, and a further eight were found alive and emaciated but later died.

Relatives of followers of a Christian cult mourn their loved ones. (Reuters: Monicah Mwangi)

The death toll, already one of the worst in the recent history of cult-related tragedies, is expected to rise further as the Kenyan Red Cross said more than 300 people were missing.

Reuters spoke to two lawyers acting for Mr Mackenzie, but both declined to comment on the accusations against him, saying they had not had enough time with their client since the discovery of the mass graves to take proper instructions from him.

Some Kenyan politicians have criticised the security services for missing opportunities to prevent the mass deaths in the Shakahola forest after it emerged that Mr Mackenzie had been arrested last month on suspicion of the murder of two children by starvation and suffocation, then released on bail.

Suspected followers of a Christian Cult sit in a car after being rescued by police from a forest at Shakahola. (AP Photo)

A disciplinary body was examining the records to establish whether there was any misconduct by judicial officers and staff who handled the matter, the Kenyan judiciary said in a statement.

Mr Mackenzie had previously been arrested on several occasions dating back to 2017, in connection with a range of offences including child neglect and radicalisation, the statement said.

He was acquitted of some charges while others were either dropped or not pursued, it said, for reasons that were not explained.


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