Kenya cult leader faces terrorism charges after 400 killed in ‘Shakahola forest massacre’

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The leader of a Kenyan doomsday cult went on trial on Monday on charges of terrorism over the deaths of more than 400 of his followers in a macabre case that shocked the country and the world.

Self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie appeared in court in the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa along with 94 co-defendants.

Journalists were removed from the courtroom shortly after the start of the hearing to enable a protected witness to take the stand.

Mackenzie, who was arrested in April last year, is alleged to have incited his acolytes to starve to death to “meet Jesus”.

He and his co-accused all pleaded not guilty to the charges of terrorism at a hearing in January.

They also face charges of murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, and child torture and cruelty in separate cases.

The remains of more than 440 people have been unearthed so far in a remote wilderness inland from the Indian Ocean coastal town of Malindi, in a case that has been dubbed the “Shakahola forest massacre”.

Autopsies have found that while starvation appeared to be the main cause of death, some of the victims – including children – were strangled, beaten, or suffocated.

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