Kenya to Release Bodies of Cult Victims Found in Mass Forest Graves

The Kenyan government will be releasing some of the bodies discovered in mass graves in the Shakahola forest last year, connected to a religious cult, after they were identified using DNA. More bodies are to be exhumed in the coming weeks.

Thirty four of the hundreds of bodies discovered in mass graves in the Shakahola forest are set to be released to their families next Tuesday week for burial.

Government pathologist Johansen Oduor told media on Wednesday that the bodies had been identified using DNA analysis, and that the process has been slowed because “people are not coming to claim their loved ones”.

He urged people who suspect family members to be among the victims to come forward.

Death toll could rise

So far 429 bodies have been uncovered during months of exhumations across tens of thousands of acres of the Shakahola forest, near the Indian Ocean.

The bodies, which autopsies revealed to have been strangled, beaten or suffocated, are those of people connected to cult leader cult leader Paul Mackenzie, who instructed members of his Good News International Church to starve themselves to “meet Jesus”.

Oduor said about 35 mass graves have been identified and that further exhumations could drive up the death toll.

He said unclaimed bodies will be buried in a way that they can be traced, if someone comes forward in the future.

Cult leader remains in custody

Mackenzie, who has been in custody since his arrest in April 2023, has been charged with murder, manslaughter and radicalisation. He has denied all charges.

He and 38 others, who are also in detention, have been charged with torturing children as well as denying their rights to education.

Last week a judge in Mombasa refused to release them on bail, for the “best interests of the children who are witnesses in this matter”.

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for 23 April.

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