The “Shakahola massacre” in a southeastern Kenyan forest, where a cult leader claimed to be meeting Jesus, has resulted in a devastating loss of human lives. The death toll has risen to 226, with 15 additional bodies discovered on Wednesday, according to the region’s prefect.

The death toll from the “Shakahola massacre” in a southeastern Kenyan forest, where a cult leader was meeting to fast to “meet Jesus”, has risen to 226 after 15 more bodies were found on Wednesday, the region’s prefect announced.

The police believe that most of the bodies discovered near the coastal town of Malindi are those of followers of the sect of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a former taxi driver, self-proclaimed “pastor” of the Good News International Church that he created.

After Wednesday’s operations, “14 bodies were exhumed and one was found in the forest,” said the region’s prefect, Rhoda Onyancha, adding that another person had been found alive by the rescue team.Kenya: Shakahola massacre death toll rises to 226

Autopsies on the first 112 bodies showed that most of the victims died of starvation, presumably after following the preaching of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, who is to be prosecuted for “terrorism”.

Some victims, including children, were strangled, beaten, or suffocated, the head of forensic operations, Johansen Oduor, said a fortnight ago.

Autopsies also revealed that there were “missing organs on some of the bodies,” the Criminal Investigation Department said in a court document seen by AFP on 9 May, referring to “well-coordinated trafficking of human organs involving several actors.

Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki had called for caution on the matter, saying it was “a theory we are investigating”. “The morgue reports are still being finalised and I don’t want to pre-empt the case,” he said.

Paul Mackenzie has been detained since he surrendered to the authorities on 14 April, after police discovered the first victims in the Shakahola forest. Around 50 mass graves have been discovered since then.

Kenya’s most influential pastor, Ezekiel Odero, was arrested on 28 April in connection with the case and later released on bail.

He is being investigated because of the possible presence of bodies of some of his followers among the bodies found in Shakahola. More than 20 bank accounts belonging to him have been frozen.

The massacre caused a stir in the religious East African country and rekindled the debate on the regulation of religious worship in Kenya, a predominantly Christian country with 4,000 “churches” according to official figures.

President William Ruto has set up a task force to “review the legal and regulatory framework governing religious organisations”.

Michael Maina Kuria
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