The death toll in an investigation linked to a Kenyan cult that practised starvation has climbed to 201, as search teams on Saturday unearthed 22 more bodies from a coastal forest, a government official said.
Police believe most of the bodies found in a forest near the Indian Ocean town of Malindi belong to followers of Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, a taxi driver-turned-preacher who is accused of inciting them to starve to death “to meet Jesus”.
Coast Regional Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha, who announced the latest figures, said 26 people have been arrested over the deaths, including Mackenzie and an “enforcer gang” tasked with ensuring that no one broke their fast or left the forest hideout alive.
She said investigators would halt exhumations for two days to reorganise their efforts, with the process to resume on Tuesday.
Mackenzie has not yet been required to enter a plea but a court on Wednesday ordered him to be detained for three more weeks pending further investigations over what has been dubbed the “Shakahola Forest Massacre”.
The 50-year-old founder of the Good News International Church turned himself in on April 14 after police acting on a tip-off first entered Shakahola forest.
While starvation appears to be the main cause of death, some of the victims — including children — were strangled, beaten or suffocated, according to chief government pathologist Johansen Oduor.
Court documents filed on Monday said some of the corpses had their organs removed, with police alleging the suspects were engaged in forced harvesting of body parts.