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Doomsday cult pastor and others will face murder and child torture charges over deaths of 429 in Kenya

Kenya's director of public prosecutions on Tuesday ordered that 95 people from a doomsday cult be charged with murder, manslaughter, radicalization, cruelty and child torture, among other crimes, over the deaths of 429 people believed to be members of the church.

The director, Mulele Ingonga, was responding to pressure from a magistrate in the coastal county of Kilifi who told the prosecution to charge the suspects within two weeks or the court would release them.

For months since the arrests last April, prosecutors had asked the court for permission to keep holding church leader Paul Mackenzie and 28 others while they looked into the case that shocked Kenyans with the discovery of mass graves and allegations of starvation and strangulation.

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Preacher Paul Mackenzie who was accused of leading a starvation doomsday cult that led to the deaths of more than 400 people, appears at a court in Malindi, Kenya Tuesday, May 2, 2023.  / AP

Principal Magistrate Yousuf Shikanda declined the latest request to hold the suspects for an additional 60 days, saying the prosecution had been given enough time to complete investigations.

The case emerged when police rescued 15 emaciated parishioners from Mackenzie's church in Kilifi county in Kenya's southeast. Four died after the group was taken to a hospital.

Survivors told investigators the pastor had instructed them to fast to death before the world ends so they could meet Jesus.

"Large number of bodies"

A search of the remote, forested area found dozens of mass graves, authorities have said. Autopsies on some bodies showed starvation, strangulation or suffocation.

Other charges the suspects will face include assault causing grievous bodily harm and engaging in organized criminal activity.

Mackenzie is serving a separate one-year prison sentence after being found guilty of operating a film studio and producing films without a valid license.

In October, Kenya's director of public prosecutions said investigators were still conducting DNA extraction and analysis to identify the victims.

"The entire process is delicate, laborious and time consuming given the large number of bodies to be identified," the office wrote.

Workers take shelter while digging the ground to exume bodies from the mass-grave site in Shakahola, outside the coastal town of Malindi, on April 25, 2023.  YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

The case has prompted calls for tighter control of fringe denominations in a country with a troubling history of self-declared pastors and cults that have dabbled in criminality.

In 2022, the body of a British woman who died at the house of a different cult leader while on holiday in Kenya was exhumed, the family's lawyer said. Luftunisa Kwandwalla, 44, was visiting the coastal city of Mombasa when she died in August 2020 and was buried a day later, but her family has claimed foul play.

AFP contributed to this report.

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