Police have now recovered 89 bodies from mass graves in a forest in eastern Kenya, believed to be linked to a cult that allegedly encouraged its followers to starve themselves to gain salvation, the country’s government said.
Kithure Kindiki, the Kenyan interior minister, said three people were found alive and rescued on Tuesday.
In all, 34 people have been rescued since the graves were discovered last Friday at an 800-acre forest.
They are said to be members of the Good News International Church, which allegedly taught its members that they would go to heaven if they starved themselves.
Paul Mackenzie Nthege, the leader of the cult, was arrested after police received a tip-off that his vast land on the Shakahola forest in the Kilifi County of eastern Kenya, contained mass graves.
Nthege was seen shouting “Praise Jesus” as he was escorted by police following his arrest. His lawyer told CNN on Tuesday he was denied bail over investigation interference fears.
“The court is of the opinion that he might interfere with investigations,” Nthege’s lawyer George Kariuki told CNN.
Kariuki said prosecutors have been given 14 days to investigate the case, adding that Nthege has not been charged. He added that he had no permission from his client to comment on allegations that he encouraged his followers to starve themselves to death in order to go to heaven.
“I can’t disclose what my client is telling me without his express permission. I can’t know if there are people that died fasting … It’s only a post-mortem report that can advise that position, and of which none has been supplied.”
There are fears the numbers could rise as the Kenya Red Cross said more than 200 people had been reported missing to its staff in the coastal town of Malindi.
Hassan Musa, Regional Manager for Kenya’s Red Cross told CNN Tuesday: “The number of family members who have come to report people missing has increased from 210 in the morning to 259 now (as of Tuesday afternoon). Out of this 259, 130 of them are children,” Musa said, adding that a local morgue in Malindi has been stretched beyond capacity.
He added that survivors recovered from the site were “very weak and traumatized.”
Police clad in overalls have been scouring the site since Friday where they have found increasing number of bodies each day.
“The purported use of the Bible to kill people, to cause widespread massacre of innocent civilians cannot be tolerated,” Kindiki said, adding that he wanted to “assure the people of Kenya and the world, that we will do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of this matter and establish the truth.”
“The government has nothing to hide,” Kindiki added.
The case has sent shockwaves through Kenya and the government has vowed tighter regulations on religious bodies and organizations.
President William Ruto branded Nthege a “terrible criminal,” whose actions were “akin to terrorists.”
Kenya is a deeply religious country and has had problems in the past with unregulated churches and cults.