Children were targeted as the first to be starved to death in the final days of a Christian doomsday cult in Kenya, according to fresh accounts emerging.
Police investigating an apparent mass suicide have so far exhumed 201 bodies in a forest in the nation’s southeast.
A former deputy preacher of the cult told the New York Times that children were killed first, ordered “to fast in the sun so they would die faster.”
Women and men were next to follow the suicide plan, Titus Katana said. Mr Katana – who is helping police with the investigation – also described to the Sunday Times the alleged brutal treatment of the children, saying they were shut in huts for five days without food or water.
“Then they wrapped them in blankets and buried them, even the ones still breathing,” he was quoted as saying.
It is alleged that the cult followers were told they would reach heaven faster if they starved to death.
Official autopsies of some of the bodies in the expansive Shakahola farm, near the coastal town of Malindi, found signs of starvation, suffocation and beatings.
More than 600 people who are reported to be members of the doomsday cult allegedly led by Pastor Paul Mackenzie are still missing.
Pastor Mackenzie, who is currently in police custody, said he closed down his Good News International Church four years ago after nearly two decades of operation. But the BBC had uncovered hundreds of his sermons still available online, some of which appeared to have been recorded after this date.
In an interview with Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper a few weeks ago, Pastor Mackenzie also denied he had forced his followers to starve themselves. But Pastor Mackenzie preached against education, saying that it was satanic, after receiving a “revelation from God”, Mr Katana told the New York Times.
Explaining his reasoning for leaving the cult, Mr Katana, who is also assisting in a police investigation against the pastor, said his teachings had become too “strange”.
Pastor Mackenzie also encouraged mothers to avoid seeking medical attention during childbirth and not to vaccinate their children. Much of Pastor Mackenzie’s preaching relates to the fulfilment of Biblical prophecies about Judgement Day.
The church’s online content also features posts about the end of the world, impending doom and the supposed dangers of science. And there are frequent warnings of an omnipotent satanic force that has supposedly infiltrated the highest echelons of power around the world.