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Cult Leader and 95 Suspects Charged in Deaths of at Least 429 Followers

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Paul Mackenzie, head of the Good News International Church, along with 95 other suspects, are set to be prosecuted for crimes including terrorism and murder. These charges are linked to the deaths of at least 429 individuals in Kenya.

On January 15, 2024, the Department of Public Prosecutions in Kenya announced these charges following the horrific unearthing of mass graves in the Shakahola forest, approximately two hours west of Malindi.

A self-styled pastor and ex-taxi driver, Mackenzie was apprehended in April of the prior year after the gruesome find.

The prosecution posits that Mackenzie and his followers relocated to the Shakahola forest after their church was closed and were prepping for the apocalypse.

Based on evidence gathered and witness testimonies, Mackenzie allegedly directed his followers to fast until death to encounter Jesus.

Many deaths, including those of children, resulted from this alleged command, with victims showing signs of physical assault and starvation.

The exhumed bodies of 429 individuals from the Shakahola graves indicated that most died from starvation, but others, including children, seemed to be victims of strangulation, suffocation, or physical assault.

The prosecutors from Kenya have stated that there is ample evidence to charge Mackenzie and the remaining suspects with crimes such as murder, assault, and aiding in the execution of a terrorist act.

Furthermore, some suspects are also facing charges of child torture.

Mackenzie, denying any culpability for the deaths, maintains that he shut down his church in 2019 and thus cannot be held answerable.

Currently, he is serving a prison term for operating a film studio and distributing films without a proper license.

A Kenyan court has ordered that Mackenzie and 30 of his associates undergo mental health evaluations before facing charges for the murder of 191 children, related to the discovery of the children’s bodies.

Of the 95 suspects charged, 64 were initially deemed victims and relocated to a rescue center. However, subsequent investigations disclosed their involvement, especially as many had lost children in the forest and given false identities to the authorities. Mackenzie’s spouse is among those charged with grave crimes.

This alarming case has provoked demands for stricter control of fringe religious sects in Kenya, a nation with a history of self-styled pastors and cults involved in illicit activities.

An investigation report by the Kenyan Senate house indicated the failure of the criminal justice system to prevent the atrocious act committed by Pastor Mackenzie, despite his previous acquittal of radicalization charges in 2017.

Known to the authorities as the “Shakahola forest massacre,” this case has shed light on the difficulties Kenya faces in managing unregulated religious movements and churches in a country of over 53 million people, with more than 4,000 registered churches.

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