("Sydney Morning Herald", March 30, 2000)
Meeting Joseph Kibwetere for the first time, the three women told him that he had been anointed to help them spread the word of God, and that the Virgin Mary had led them to him, a Catholic known for his piety, prayer and good works.
According to Kibwetere's family, that meeting in 1989 was the start of a fateful chain of events that led to estrangement from their father and husband, his eventual excommunication from the Catholic Church, and the death of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of his followers in the Ugandan sect known as the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God.
The discovery of the bodies of as many as 500 of those followers after a fire that engulfed their church on March 17 has been followed by a mounting toll of fresh horrors.
The most recent discoveries of bodies have been at other buildings owned by Kibwetere's movement, including the house of Father Dominic Kataribabo, the only cult leader whose body has been identified. Most of the dead were women and children, many had been strangled, others stabbed. Some appear to have been dead for months.
The total number of dead recovered in the lush hills of south-western Uganda is now 800 and rising. The toll of bodies poses questions about how killing on such a scale could go on at different sites over an extended period without being discovered.
As the Ugandan police, understaffed and underequipped, continue the grim search, this impoverished, mostly Christian nation of 11 million faces many other questions as well: about the importance of religious freedom in a country where many cults have flourished, about the competence of the Government's security and intelligence network, about Kibwetere's mysterious Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God and, of course, about Kibwetere himself - presumed to have fled and now wanted for mass murder.
Dead or alive, Kibwetere is, to his eldest son, a murderer. "I feel pity for those people who died," says Juvenar Rugambwa, 36.
His mother, Teresa Kibwetere, a former domestic science teacher, is a polite, elderly woman who dresses in a busuti, a traditional robe with a scarf at the waist. She lives in a small village in Ntungamo district in the south-west of Uganda, in the house she and her husband built in 1973 when he was a well-off and respected member of the community.
Born in 1932, Joseph Kibwetere came up through the local Catholic school to became a schoolteacher with his own primary school, where he impressed his students with his devotion to his faith. He graduated to supervisor for the region's Catholic schools and founded a private Catholic school of his own. Some years later, after moving into government service and politics, he donated the land on which two churches are built.
"We never fought," recalls Teresa, whom he married in 1960. "He was a peaceful man," she says in a room bearing the signs of religious devotion: images of Jesus and Mary, rosary beads and prayer cards, a photograph of her husband praying on a pilgrimage to Rome and a certificate recognising the papal blessing he received there.
Teresa, who bore Kibwetere 16 children during 40 years of marriage, says the man she knew for decades as a pious Catholic devoted to good works started to change drastically after three women approached him at a service one day in 1989.
Credonia Mwerinde, her sister Ursula Komuhangi and Angela Mugisha were already leaders of a Christian cult devoted to the Virgin Mary, who, they said, had instructed Kibwetere to take them in. He did, and so, says the family, began the cult.
Little is known of Credonia's past other than that she described herself as a former prostitute. "She was humble at first," Teresa says. "But she soon began to mistreat me. She said I was bad, then she said she and her sister should sleep in the same room with my husband and I. He always supported them."
Teresa refuses to speculate on her husband's relationship with Credonia, other than to say that she was the cause of changes in his personality and that Credonia, also now missing, was the power behind the throne.
Predicting that the world would end with 1999, the cult crusaded for a return to a life according to the Ten Commandments as the only path to salvation.
"Credonia was silent and she stayed alone in that room there," says Teresa, pointing to a door leading off from the living room. "We would only see her when we went to Mass and meetings. Her nephew used to pass us messages. She said she was receiving messages from the Virgin Mary and she spent the whole day writing them down."
As more and more followers came to live on the family's farm, tensions grew between the 200 or so followers and the family. "When the people came here they started mistreating us, the family members," Juvenar recalls.
The family decided that enough was enough when Kibwetere started to sell off his property to buy food and clothing for the commune.
In 1992 the cult and its leader packed up and left for Kanungu, in south-western Uganda. Kibwetere never moved back, settling on a magnificent plot of fertile hillside land, and the cult set about spreading its message, chiefly through a 163-page manifesto, A Timely Message From Heaven: The End of the Present Times.
Much of it is "revelations" to Kibwetere and other cult leaders; dark prophecies of famines and wars, of rivers turning to blood and of food turning to poison.
With Kibwetere as chief proselytiser, the cult took hold.
"This man was prominent in many ways," his son says, pointing out his father's service on government commissions and his role as an organiser for the opposition Democratic Party.
"People respected him because he was religious and he had money. And he had a convincing tongue. He was bright. He was educated." But in the eyes of the Catholic Church Kibwetere had become a sinner of the worst kind, claiming to have contact with God himself and refusing orders to desist. The church's anger grew when he recruited two priests to his cause, and eventually Kibwetere was excommunicated.
"In effect he challenged the leadership of the Pope," says the now retired Bishop Kakubi.
The cult's ranks swelled, with estimates of its peak membership ranging up to 5,000. To join, people were expected to sell their possessions and turn over considerable sums of money.
On the compound an ascetic lifestyle took hold, with sex even among married couples discouraged and communication limited largely to a system of sign language.
Exactly what happened when the world did not end on December 31 is not clear. But dozens of followers converged on the Kanungu compound on March 16 and 17, joining hundreds already there. On the morning of March 17 the flock gathered in the chapel, which faced Rugyeyo Mountain. One blaze, or maybe several, were ignited.
The day before the fire, a parcel from Kanungu arrived at the home of Kibwetere's family. It contained books and documents from the cult, its certificate of registration, a copy of the 10 commandments of the cult and other items. All was sent, the family believes, by Joseph Kibwetere.
"Nobody else would have sent them," his son says. "He wanted us to carry on the message."
(BBC, March 29, 2000)
The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God had led a relatively uneventful existence until the holocaust that consumed hundreds of its members.
The whereabouts of the founders is unknown
Located in a remote farming community in the volatile south-west corner of Uganda, the cult was quiet and inward-looking.
The movement began in the late 1980s when a former prostitute Credonia Mwerinde reported seeing a vision of the Virgin Mary.
She failed to convince the Vatican, but Joseph Kibwetere, a failed politician, believed enthusiastically and their cult was born.
Police believe they began murdering their followers, after their predictions about the end of the world failed to come true.
The group, which is thought to have attracted up to 4,000 members, moved from Mr Kibweteere's home in Rwashamaire to Kanungu in about 1992.
Ugandans read of the world's worst mass suicide of recent years
It was registered as a charity whose aim was to obey the Ten Commandments and preach the word of Jesus Christ.
Members dressed in matching uniforms and spoke little for fear of breaking one of the commandments.
An expert on new religions said the group developed a hierarchy of visionaries, headed by Ms Mwerinde.
They were backed up by priests who worked as theologians, rationalising the messages.
Catholicism The cult maintained tenuous links to Roman Catholicism, which is a strong force in the region.
Cult included defrocked former Catholic clergy
Catholic icons were prominent at the group's premises and its leadership was dominated by a number of defrocked Catholic priests and nuns.
Many of the bodies have been found at the home of a former respected priest from Kamapala called Dominic Kataribabo, who had a PhD from the United States, and who became a major force in the cult.
Locals said the group had described their church as a kind of Noah's ark.
"They were told that at the time of calamity they would come here," said one.
"They were told that at a certain time this year the world would end and so the leaders made it happen, and perhaps the people there believed it had happened," she added.
Villagers in the area described the followers as disciplined, polite and never causing any trouble.
The cult compound included a primary school and members spent their days in communal pursuits.
But the Ugandan press had reported that the cult had been shut down in 1998 for its insanitary conditions, using child labour, and possibly kidnapping children.
One survivor of the inferno said that some followers had been dying from malnutrition and many were ill.
He said members had to get up at 0300 and pray for three hours before working in the fields.
The cult's followers were drawn from south and central Uganda and from neighbouring Rwanda.
But experts on religion in Africa believe it was not just Mr Kibweteere's fiery preaching and Ms Mwerinde's visions that drew them to his church.
The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God is one of many post-Catholic groups which emerged in south-west Uganda in the mid-1980s.
Many believe the social and political turmoil in the region have been a significant factor in their growth. They point to the Aids pandemic, the overthrow of Idi Amin and the five-year civil war.
(BBC, March 29, 2000)
Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of Joseph Kibweteere, the cult leader thought to be behind one of the worst massacres in recent history.
His estranged wife Theresa, a devout Catholic, believes he perished in the inferno at his church in Kanungu in south-western Uganda a week ago.
But the Ugandan authorities suspect he is still at large and have launched a nationwide manhunt.
So far more than 630 bodies of cult members have been found and the number is still rising.
Mrs Kibweteere, who wears a pendant of the Pope around her neck, is struggling to comprehend the fact her husband could be behind the carnage.
"He was so humble once," she told the British Sunday Times in an interview last week.
The Kibweteeres married in Mbarara, the regional capital, in 1960.
He was working as assistant supervisor of the area's Catholic schools and later became a government overseer of building and agricultural projects.
Prisoners dig up the corpses
Mr Kibweteere had a brief fling with politics, campaigning for the opposition Democratic Party in the 1980 election, but he dropped out after their defeat.
The family then moved to Rwashamaire, where they owned several properties, hundreds of cattle and a milling business.
Vision Mr Kibweteere first announced the Virgin Mary had appeared before him in 1984.
His convictions were strengthened five years later when a former prostitute called Credonia Mwerinde said she had seen the Virgin Mary in a cave near his home.
A welcome sign at the cult's compound
The Kibweteeres' son told the Sunday Times that Ms Mwerinde moved in soon afterwards.
"The next thing we knew she was in our house and they had decided to start their cult here.
"Soon she was beating us all. My father was in awe of her and would do anything she said."
Mr Kibweteere set up his Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God and he and Ms Mwerinde declared the world would end at the turn of the century.
The arrival of Dominic Kataribabo, a respected and popular priest with a PhD from the United States, gave added weight to the cult.
Meanwhile Ms Mwerinde was claiming to receive messages from the Virgin Mary through a hidden telephone system that spoke through objects such as cups and plates.
She is said to have persuaded Mr Kibweteere to take his children out of school and sell his three other properties, car and milling machines to feed the growing numbers of disciples.
On one occasion she claimed the Virgin Mary had told her all children under five should be killed, and a sacrifice was needed immediately, according to the Kibweteeres' daughter Edith.
When village elders told Mr Kibweteere in 1992 that he must remove himself and his cult, Ms Mwerinde's father offered his farm in Kanungu, west of Rwashamaire.
But the cult is said to have begun to fracture when the millennium came and went with no Armageddon.
A teenage survivor of the massacre has sworn that Mr Kibweteere was not in Kanungu on the fateful night and that he saw Mwerinde running through nearby fields as the place exploded.
But Mr Kibweteere's son Rugambwe is convinced that one of the bodies did belong to his father.
by A. Mutumba-Lule (The East African [Nairobi], March 29, 2000)
Kampala - As The last century drew to an end, several "prophetess" and "prophets" emerged in Uganda and preached to their followers how the world would come to an end at the close of 1999.
Most of them asked their followers to sell off their earthly possessions and fast for several days to be assured of places in heaven.
The Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments whose members on March 17 died in what was believed to be mass suicide, in western Uganda's Rukungiri district, is only one of several such cults that have sprung up in the country, well known for its Christian martyrs of 1886.
The death by fire was reminiscent of the death of more than 30 new Ugandan Christian converts in the 19th century, but under different circumstances. In 1886, more than 30 new Christian converts were burnt to death on the orders of King Daudi Mwanga for refusing to renounce their Christian faith. The world now knows them as the Ugandan martyrs and every year, on June 3, pilgrimage is made to the scene at Namugongo, where they were reduced to ashes.
Since then, cults have proliferated in Uganda, many of them formed by people who have left mainstream churches, but who advocate some extremist form of Christianity.
In Mukono town, about 30 km east of Kampala, at least four children died and several others were hospitalised when their parents forced them to fast in anticipation of the return of Jesus Christ on January 1, 2000. Nobody was allowed to eat or drink anything in the belief that food would make them impure.
Many emerging Ugandan "prophets" and "prophetess" claim to have received visions declaring them God's messengers and giving them the power to foresee the future and heal several diseases and curses that afflict mankind.
Last June 27, a former chicken vendor-turned-priest rode a donkey in the southern district of Luweero. He said he was retracing Jesus Christ' footsteps two centuries ago. His move was aimed at showing that he was the last prophet on earth.
Within two weeks, "Pastor" Wilson Bushara of the World Last Message Warning Church boasted over 1,000 followers and had established his settlement complete with personal bodyguards. Every day, people flocked his settlement, even though he required them to sell all their property and hand in the proceeds to him.
When word reached the local police that the "pastor" was encouraging people to steal to get money to join his cult and that there was communal sex, rape and defilement at the World Last Message Last Warning Church, the settlement was disbanded and Bushara fled the country. He remains one of Uganda's most wanted men.
Another cult leader, "Prophetess" Ggwajwa Nabasa, 21, says she saw the light when she "died" for four days. She got the power to communicate with God and to cure all diseases. Her followers - who number at least 2,000 - pay up to Ush10,000 ($8) as consultation fee whenever they visit her to have their afflictions cured.
Their confidence in her might have waned when the world did not end on January 1 as she had predicted, but they still flock her shrines, located in Sembabule, over 160 km south of Kampala.
The Abaikiriza (Believers') Cult, based in Kibaale, 400km south-west of Kampala, is perhaps the biggest in the country. Started in the 1980s, it had established at least 3,000 shrines all over western Uganda, parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda by 1997.
(Panafrican News Agency, March 29, 2000)
Kampala, Uganda (PANA) - Eight European and African countries have joined forces to hunt down the perpetrators of mass massacres in south-western Uganda, in which at least 530 people died in a church blaze 17 March.
"Experts from at least eight countries had expressed willingness to investigate the massacres and trace the whereabouts of any surviving cult leaders believed to be on the run" a Kampala daily, the New Vision, reported Wednesday, quoting a highly placed source.
Hundreds of the followers of the group that calls itself 'Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God' died in a fire believed to have been masterminded by the cult leaders.
Sources say investigators from Britain, the US, Germany, Italy, Kenya, South Africa and two other unnamed countries were expected to play a leading role in the search for the killers.
Interpol Uganda has also contacted its counterparts elsewhere in the world to help in the investigations.
Top Uganda Crimnal Investigation Department officers have gone abroad to establish the sect's external financiers.
Reports say the cult leader, Joseph Kibwetere and his assistant, Credonia Mwerinde, fled Kanungu, the night before the fire.
The police are expected to circulate their portraits to other Interpol agencies.
A former member said cult leaders Dominic Kataribabo and Mwerinde used to slaughter a baby every Friday morning and drank the blood. The grisly ritual was intended to keep off spirits and the government from unearthing the cult's criminal activities.
Investigators believe that the Kanungu horror was premeditated murder and not mass suicide as had earlier been thought.
Forensic experts said some of the bodies dug out from the mass graves had stab wounds and pieces of rolled and knotted cloth tied around their necks.
Meanwhile, another 28 bodies were Tuesday found buried beneath a house belonging to one of the leaders of the doomsday cult.
The bodies, which included those of 20 children, were found under the concrete floor of a dressing room in the former home of Kataribabo in the township of Rugazi, south-western Uganda.
About 78 bodies were Monday found during excavations in the grounds of the same house.
This brings to 106 the number of bodies found within Kataribabo's home alone.
He is the only leader who has been positively identified to have died in the inferno.
by Michael Wakabi (The East African [Nairobi], March 29, 2000)
Kampala - Local people in Kanungu, who knew Mr. Joseph Kibwetere, the leader of the Movement for Restoration of the Ten Commandments, say he was hardened man. When he was informed of the death of two of his daughters within one week in 1999, he neither turned up for the funerals nor sent condolence messages.
But whether he died with his flock or not, at 68, Kibwetere was a troubled man. Issues of accountability were beginning to emerge at the Kanungu cult headquarters where, after auctioning their earthly possessions, hundreds of believers had gathered since 1999 in anticipation of the end of the world.
Many followers faced the prospect of a paupers' life if the end of the world did not come soon.
If Kibwetere, led his flock to believe that the end of world would come on March 17, evidence suggests that he knew that end would only come for him and his followers.
Writing to his family on March 16, the doomsday cult leader told his wife that the end for him and his congregation would come the next day and told her to "keep the candle burning." This letter contradicts the earlier belief that the cult leader led his flock to death out of religious conviction.
Dissent grew after Armageddon failed to materialise at the turn of the millennium, and the cult leaders became desperate for a quick solution. Early this year, word was sent out that the end of the world would come between March 15 and 17. It appears that trouble makers were led to a quick death with blows of machetes or poison and their bodies dumped in a nearby pit latrine.
In well maintained cemeteries surrounding the cult compound, lie hundreds of graves of believers who had died earlier of natural causes. Even though there is a health centre in the neighbour hood, medical treatment was not allowed.
Mr. Kibwetere was an elusive person. Although almost everybody in Kanungu knew his name, few actually ever met him. Such is the case of Father Busingye who was curator of the local Catholic parish for three years. The cult headquarters was located just half a kilometre away on Nyabugoto hill, below the Catholic church, but the two men never met.
"Because the cult followers used to come out and operate their small shops, we would occasionally meet and try to get them to see reason. But I never saw Kibwetere face to face at any one time," Fr Busingye says.
If he did not die in the inferno, Kibwetere's anonymity must have helped his get-away. With no forensic tests done to establish the identity of the dead, speculation is rife that the leader and his close confidantes did not die.
Kibwetere's car, which was seen on the day of the fire, was not at the scene of the suicide and has not been sighted since, suggesting that somebody got away in it. And with the border crossings at Butogota and Ishasa just about 24 km away, it was easy to flee to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Born on February 24, 1932 in Ntugamo district, western Uganda, Kibwetere was educated at St. Georges Teachers College in Ibanda where he received a Grade Two primary school teacher's certificate in 1955. By 1973, he had risen to head of the Public Service Commission. During the 1980 general election that returned Dr Milton Obote to power in Uganda, Kibwetere was a mobiliser for the opposition Democratic Party. Disillusioned after his party was defeated, Kibwetere started his Movement for Restoration of the Ten Commandments in April 1984.
Mrs Jane Byantulaki of Kanungu, who knew half of the people who perished, says Kibwetere at one time became a Muslim before turning himself into a pastor. "He turned once prosperous people into paupers, when they joined his faith as he advised them to sell everything, including clothing," she said.
by Craig Nelson (Associated Press, March 29, 2000)
RUGAZI, Uganda (AP) - The children and neighbors who had looked on in horrified wonder for two days drifted away Wednesday, accustomed by now to the gruesome sight of shirtless workers tugging twisted bodies through a narrow doorway onto the green lawn.
But that didn't mean the horror had ceased. The death count linked to a Christian doomsday sect climbed ever higher Wednesday - to nearly 700 - in what officials say is one of the largest mass murders in recent history.
The latest collection of twisted, decaying bodies was uncovered in the plain gray fieldstone house of Dominic Kataribabo, an excommunicated Roman Catholic priest and a sect leader.
By mid-afternoon, the workers' two-day task was complete: 81 mostly naked bodies of nameless people were pulled from the brown earth beneath the floor of a 10-by-10 foot room in Kataribabo's home, examined briefly and reburied. Earlier this week, 74 mutilated and strangled bodies, many of them children, were unearthed from a mass grave in a small sugarcane field in Kataribabo's backyard.
By Wednesday, the gruesome task had sapped the swagger of Ugandan investigators and forensics experts who arrived here Monday to figure out how so many people had died and who killed them. They had few answers, and police were looking for more graves.
``I want to know why these people were killed,'' said a muted Godfrey Bangirana, a senior criminal investigator from the distant capital, Kampala.
Wednesday's discoveries bring to at least 673 the number of dead found in three compounds in southwestern Uganda that once belonged to the sect, which had up to 1,000 members. Officials believe most of the dead were sect members.
Scenes of horror linked to the apocalyptic sect have emerged repeatedly since March 17, when fire engulfed the chapel of a compound in nearby Kanungu.
At least 330 people burned to death there. Kataribabo, 64, is believed to have been among the dead - a body thought to be his was found in the ruins, still wearing a clerical collar.
Authorities initially called the conflagration a mass suicide. But within days, investigators discovered six strangled, mutilated corpses in a pit latrine on the compound, triggering a murder investigation.
Days after the fire, 153 more decomposing bodies were found buried in a Buhunga village compound belonging to the sect. Then, on Friday, police discovered the first Rugazi mass grave when they came to inspect Kataribabo's compound. Investigators found the bodies in the house after Kataribabo's nephew, Bart Bainomukama, told them his uncle had said he was digging a pit for a refrigerator. A hole driven through the floor quickly revealed a human leg. That led to the discovery of the 81 additional corpses.
Of the bodies pulled out, 48 were children. Two-thirds were female. They were all interred on the same day about a month ago, police pathologist Thaddeus Barungi said.
As the bodies were found, neighbors wondered how the strangulation of so many people could go unheard, how the digging of graves and the burials of more than 100 people could pass unnoticed.
Authorities are pursuing the two main leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, Cledonia Mwerinde and Joseph Kibwetere, an excommunicated Roman Catholic.
The pair had predicted that the world would end last Dec. 31. When that didn't happen, authorities believe, members demanded the return of possessions they had surrendered to join the sect, rebelled and were slaughtered.
In terms of deaths, the killing has begun to approach the 1978 Jonestown massacre in the jungles of Guyana. In that incident, Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones convinced hundreds of his followers to drink a cyanide-laced punch. Some tried to escape and were shot. More than 900 died.
In Uganda, details were emerging about Kataribabo, who was drawn to the sect soon after its inception in 1990. From a parish pulpit near his hilltop compound in Rugazi, 160 miles southwest of Kampala, he urged the Catholic church to adhere more strictly to the Ten Commandments.
The Rev. John Baptist Kabuki, then the local bishop, did not tolerate Kataribabo's criticism, said Michael Karyango, the bishop's nephew. The two also clashed over money for development projects.
Soon, Kabuki stripped the priest of his duties and Kataribabo joined the sect full-time, later leading seminars at his compound on the movement's secretive, often harshly regimented brand of Christianity.
In the days before the fire, he shed many of his belongings, selling his house to Bainomukama on March 11. A day later, he and two others left after burning religious literature, grass mats and bottles. He told Bainomukama he planned to spread the sect's teachings.
(Associated Press, Mar 29 2000)
RUGAZI, Uganda (AP) - Ugandan investigators uncovered 53 more corpses today - many of them children - from a mass grave hidden in the former home of a doomsday sect leader.
A total of 81 bodies, crammed limb across limb beneath the concrete floor of a 10-foot-by-10-foot room, were found over two days in the mass grave. Authorities said today they believed they had recovered them all.
The mass grave was found Tuesday in a house that belonged to Dominic Kataribabo, an excommunicated Roman Catholic priest and a leader of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, until three weeks ago. Many of the victims appeared to have been strangled - knotted cloths still ringed their necks as their bodies were pulled from the dank hole in the floor.
Seventy-four more strangled, mutilated bodies were uncovered Monday in a pit in a sugar cane field on the property.
The latest discoveries bring to at least 673 the number of dead in three compounds in southwestern Uganda that once belonged to the sect. Authorities believe the sect's leaders are responsible for one of the largest mass murders in recent history.
The sect had up to 1,000 members, and officials believe they make up most of the dead, though the identities of the victims remain mostly unknown. Five other compounds in southwestern Uganda belonging to the sect have not yet been examined, police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi said.
Scenes of horror linked to the apocalyptic sect have emerged since March 17, when fire engulfed the chapel of a sect compound in nearby Kahunga.
At least 330 people burned to death. Kataribabo, a defrocked Roman Catholic priest, is believed to have been among the dead - a body thought to be the 64-year-old's was found in the ruins, still wearing a clerical collar.
Authorities initially called the conflagration a mass suicide. But within days, investigators discovered six strangled, mutilated corpses in the latrine of the compound, triggering a murder investigation.
Days after the fire, 153 more bodies were found buried in a Buhunga village compound belonging to the sect. Police discovered the first Rugazi mass grave on Friday, when they came to inspect Kataribabo's compound.
On Tuesday, investigators including a pathologist arrived from the capital, Kampala, to unearth 74 bodies local officials exhumed from a trench in Kataribabo's backyard and quickly reburied.
While tissue and blood samples were drawn, investigators questioned Kataribabo's neighbors and relatives. His nephew, Bart Bainomukama, led them to the foyer, where there were signs of freshly poured concrete. Bainomukama told police that his uncle had said he was digging a pit to install a refrigerator. A hole driven through the floor quickly revealed the sight of a human leg.
Authorities are pursuing the two main leaders of the movement - Cledonia Mwerinde and Joseph Kibwetere, an excommunicated Roman Catholic. The pair had predicted that the world would end Dec. 31. When that failed to occur, authorities believe, sect members demanded the return of possessions they surrendered to join the sect and became an insurgent force that was put down with brutal force.
Most of the victims have been dead for ``about a month,'' police official Geoffrey Bangirana said.
Kataribabo was drawn to the sect soon after its inception in 1990. From a parish pulpit in the valley below his hilltop compound in Rugazi, 160 miles southwest of Kampala, he urged the church to adhere more strictly to the Ten Commandments.
The Rev. John Baptist Kabuki, then-bishop of the Mbarara diocese, did not tolerate Kataribabo's criticism, says Michael Karyango, one of his nephews. The two also clashed over an offer of money for development projects Kataribabo had received from friends he made in California, where he studied theology in the mid-1980s.
Kabuki barred him from receiving the funds, Karyango says. Soon, Kabuki stripped the priest of his duties and Kataribabo joined the sect full-time, later leading seminars at his compound on the movement's secretive, often harshly regimented brand of Christianity.
In the days leading up to the fire, he shed many of his belongings. He sold his house to Bainomukama for $3,300 on March 11. A day later, he and two others left the house after burning religious literature, grass mats and bottles. He told Bainomukama he planned to travel, spread the sect's teachings and buy a $13,200 home in Kampala.
As one by one bodies were unearthed this week from the compound he left behind, neighbors wondered how the strangulation deaths of so many people could go unheard, how the digging of graves and the burials of more than 100 people could pass unnoticed.
Arsene Oworyanawe, Kataribabo's brother who lives in a mud-wall house 30 yards from the compound, said, ``I didn't know anything. I stayed in my house at night.''
by Karl Vick ("The Washington Post ", March 29, 2000)
RUGAZI, Uganda, March 28 In the 11 days since at least 330 members of a doomsday cult perished in an explosive fire, what appeared to be an inexplicable case of mass suicide in an isolated Ugandan town has been transformed by a stream of fresh horrors into what authorities now describe as mass murder on an extraordinary scale.
Just three days after the March 17 inferno in the main compound of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God at Kanungu, authorities found six more bodies sealed under concrete in a nearby pit latrine. Then 153 corpses were unearthed at a second cult compound a few miles away, near Rukungiri. And this afternoon, while workers were counting 74 more bodies discovered on a hilltop here that the cult used as yet another campus, Ugandan police investigator Terense Kinyera found himself casting a suspicious eye on what appeared to be recently poured concrete in a closet of the main house.
Men with heavy iron bars were summoned to punch a hole in the concrete, and Kinyera's suspicion was confirmed. The first desiccated corpse was pulled out an hour later. By the time the sun settled onto the glimmering surface of nearby Lake Edward, 28 more bodies--most of them children--had been laid on the lawn of the home of an excommunicated Catholic priest who was identified as a cult member. Workers said they saw at least as many waiting to be recovered. By sunset, when the diggers paused, the total number of dead recovered here in the lush hills of southwestern Uganda stood at 591.
Like those unearthed at other sites, many of the dead here appeared to have been strangled, one apparently with a banana leaf. Others bore stab wounds. A pathologist gathered tissue samples to test for poison.
"We're looking at murder," said Godfrey Bangirana, an assistant police commissioner, pausing on the short stroll from one pile of corpses to the other on a hilltop thick with the smell of death. "You cannot kill all of these human beings alone. This was an organized crime, and an organized crime can't be committed by one person. It must be a group."
Suspicion has centered on cult leaders, whom police at first declared had perished in the inferno at Kanungu, a village 50 miles south of here and 200 miles southwest of Kampala, the capital. Investigators say they are on the lookout for Joseph Kibweteere, 68, the former Catholic priest who described a vision of the Virgin Mary extolling the Ten Commandments, and for Cledonia Mwerinde, 40, the former nun and onetime prostitute who urged him to found the sect.
In recent months the leaders were under pressure from sect members who awakened on Jan. 1, 2000, the day Kibweteere had predicted the world would end, to find doomsday had not arrived. Ugandan police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi said "some of these leaders" may have escaped the Kanungu blaze that took the lives of the faithful with proceeds of the possessions initiates had been urged to sell before joining the sect.
A vehicle usually found at the Kanungu compound was not there after the blaze, Mugenyi said. It was, however, spotted on the night of the 17th at the second compound near Rukungiri, when someone tried to set its buildings afire. The subsequent discovery of 153 bodies in two mass graves there prompted police to search other sites associated with the cult.
The hilltop home here in Rugazi belonged to Dominic Kataribabo, 64, a former Catholic priest who joined the cult in the early 1990s. On family land with a commanding view of two lakes and a gorgeous valley, the sect established a "learning center." Neighbors said members clad in robes and permitted to speak only to pray, gathered by the dozens, sleeping in a crude dormitory erected behind Kataribabo's 10-room house.
The defrocked priest stayed at the house only occasionally between visits to the main compound. He was last seen on March 12, according to his brother, Arsen Oworynawe, 78, and seemed "normal," he said. Other residents said cult members were seen leaving a few days earlier in a minibus and pickup truck.
"People liked him and wanted him to pull out from this so-called new religion, but he wouldn't," said Michael Karyango, who lives in a nearby village.
The 74 bodies were found neatly stacked 10 feet beneath freshly turned earth behind the dormitory, in an area screened by a high fence. Forty-six were female. The sizable number of children included a baby only months old.
Police pathologist Thaddeus Barungi moved among the corpses, which had been laid out around the open trench like flower petals by prisoners who had to dig out the dead then, two hours later, return the corpses to the grave. Barungi said they appeared to have been in the earth less than a month.
The bodies found under the house had been dead longer than that, the pathologist said. The finding further deepened the mystery. Police wondered openly not only why the hundreds were murdered, but also whether those who killed them--and undertook the considerable task of disposing of the remains--later perished themselves, either in the Kanungu blaze or at another of the sect's killing grounds.
The concern is heightened by the hundreds of cult members who remain unaccounted for. While estimates of the group's membership vary from 1,000 to three times that, a Ugandan newspaper published the names and addresses of members who had registered at the main compound in the days before the conflagration there: There were 810.
by Adrian Blomfield (Reuters, March 29, 2000)
RUGAZI, Uganda, March 29 (Reuters) - Police bungling may have destroyed vital evidence in one of Uganda's biggest murder inquiries following the death of over 700 members of a doomsday cult, critics say.
Police say the bodies found in mass graves and a burnt-out church in southwest Uganda, including those of over 100 children, appear to have been victims of systematic murder by leaders of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, which believed the world would end on December 31, 1999.
Reporters have seen hundreds of people walk unhindered through crime scenes and evidence being removed from mass grave sites while bodies have been dug up and reburied with indecent haste, and with no attempt to identify them.
Even the simple counting of bodies has been mired in confusion.
``I have to say it was a very poor investigative job,'' Brigadier Jim Muhwezi, a former head of Ugandan internal security said.
``I don't know why there has been all the hurry,'' Muhwezi, now a member of parliament, said.
Two weeks after the church blaze at Kanungu, the exact number of people killed there remains unknown as well as the overall death toll.
Government officials gave an estimate of 530 after the blaze victims had already been unceremoniously dumped in a mass grave without a proper count and identification process taking place.
A student walked off with a register of the cult, which was later given to a newspaper. With no police at the site, evidence could have been removed.
Following the Kanungu fire dozens of bodies were discovered in mass graves at Buhungu and Rugazi, other cult locations, and hastily reburied.
``You really cannot compare us Ugandans with our colleagues in Britain or the U.S.,'' said police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi, defending police conduct of the investigation.
``Some people were blaming the police at Kanungu but we are spread thin on the ground,'' he said.
Ill-equipped police -- there is only one police car in the district of 900,000 people -- gave four different figures for the contents of one mass grave.
At the home of one cult leader in Rugazi, it took a specialist forensic and investigative team three days to arrive after part of a body was seen protruding from the soil of a six-feet deep trench dug by local police.
By the time they arrived, local police with no forensic experience had exhumed and reburied 74 corpses.
``There was a breakdown in communication because we had told them to hang on,'' Mugenyi said.
A local doctor with no training in pathology made cursory notes on each body. Hundreds of people milled about, most of them children without supervision.
In the 48 hour gap between the discovery of the first corpse and the uncovering of the rest there was no police guard to watch the site. At one point grazing pigs took over.
Police at the site quickly declared the case closed despite contradictions in the number of bodies counted -- ranging from 66 to 76 -- and speculation there could be more graves in the house after two sites with 153 corpses were found at another cult compound two days before.
``Why should we dig more?,'' one police officer said then. ``We've found everything and that is that. Case closed.''
Some order came into the investigation on Tuesday with the arrival of the specialist seven-man team forensic team, which includes the country's only police pathologist.
But with as many as 4,000 cult members still unaccounted for, there is every chance that the team could be overwhelmed.
by Ian Fisher ("The New York Times", March 29, 2000)
UGAZI, Uganda, March 28 -- In one room the concrete floor looked a little new, and on a hunch, the police began to dig there today. First they found a human foot, sole upturned, poking up from the rubble.
Within a few hours, 28 bodies were hauled out of a pit -- carefully sealed with concrete, maybe months ago -- inside the house owned by a leader of a cult in western Uganda. By dark the pit was only half emptied.
It was, on one level, another horrifying discovery in the 11 days since more than 300 people were found burned to death at a church not far from here. The death toll, from three sites, has now risen to at least 591, including 74 bodies found buried in the backyard of this same house on Monday. There are at least two more suspected grave sites.
But the discovery of the pit may also indicate just how well organized, and perhaps longstanding, this march to mass murder in Uganda was. The Ugandan police pathologist, Dr. Thaddeus Barungi, said the bodies buried inside the house were "much older" than the ones in the backyard, which he estimated had been killed less than a month ago.
And the care taken in constructing and sealing the pit may suggest that the leaders thought they could get away with some murders early on. There was even an explanation of why they needed a hole in the middle of their house: they told a local politician that they planned to install an underground refrigerator, the police said today.
As each day passes, the police say it becomes clearer that most, maybe all, of the people were slain and were not victims of mass suicide, as was originally suspected when the bodies at the church, in the village of Kanungu, were discovered on March 17.
Some investigators say they cannot rule out suicide for some people in the church. After all, the cult, called the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, professed the belief that the world would end on Dec. 31, 1999. But many of the other victims found since then show signs of strangulation or other kinds of homicide. For example, one woman found in the backyard here had a banana leaf tied around her neck. The skull of another victim was crushed.
And on Friday the police unearthed the bodies of 153 people who had been slashed or strangled from a mass grave at a cult site in Rutoma, about 30 miles from Kanungu.
The police say their investigation has also begun to turn to exactly how so many people could have been killed without any neighbors hearing of it. There has been speculation that many victims were poisoned, particularly because many bodies show no sign of violence.
"You can't kill all these human beings alone," said Godfrey Bangirana, an assistant police commissioner, as he stood aside a row of several dozen bodies in the backyard here. "This was an organized crime.
"And an organized crime cannot be committed by one person. It must be a group."
The police have not ruled out the possibility that the leaders, and particularly the overall leader, Joseph Kibwetere, are still alive, perhaps having escaped across Uganda's border with Congo, not far away.
The bodies found today were in the home of Dominic Kataribabo, 62, an excommunicated priest reported to hold a doctorate in theology. He lived in a well-constructed stone house of 10 rooms at the top of a hill in this village, surrounded by a small banana plantation, in shouting range of the children who play at the Rugazi Central Primary School.
Neighbors and the police say the house appeared to be a place where cult members went to study. Neighbors and the police also say cars and small trucks often arrived at night.
What strains belief is that no one interviewed by reporters today at the site -- or by the police -- admitted to having had any idea what was happening there. Even Mr. Kataribabo's brother, Arsen Oworynawe, 78, who lives in a house maybe 20 yards from where the 74 bodies were buried, said he had not known.
"I didn't know such a thing could happen," said Mr. Oworynawe, a carpenter who said he had helped build his brother's house. He said the backyard had been shielded off by huge reed mats and he could see nothing.
He had little to say about his brother, except that he did not seem crazy to him and that he last saw him on March 12, when Mr. Kataribabo said he was going to Kampala, the capital of Uganda. "He was normal," his brother said. "I have a son in Kampala, and I asked him to send greetings."
Mr. Oworynawe said he himself belonged to the cult for about three months several years ago. "I didn't like the way they were preaching," he said. "They never wanted anyone to drink or smoke. And eating, you know, was a problem. They would eat only once a day."
Today his family sat with cloths covering their noses because the stench from the bodies was so strong. Mr. Oworynawe had his own way of combating the horror: "I need a drink," he said.
On Monday the local police dug up 74 bodies from one large hole in the backyard, then reburied them in two other holes that the cult members had already dug. But the local police were supposed to have waited until today, when senior investigators arrived to perform more detailed forensic tests.
"There was a breakdown in communications," said Mugenyi Assuman, a national police spokesman at the site. "We had told them to wait, but somehow somebody misinformed them yesterday."
So today a pack of prisoners and laborers in bare feet unearthed the bodies again. Quick autopsies were performed out in the open on some of the bodies, and tissue samples were taken for analysis. Investigators counted 46 females, 26 males and 2 bodies of uncertain sex, including that of a baby less then three months old.
("New Vision" [Kampala], March 29, 2000)
American FBI detectives are among experts from eight European and African countries that have joined forces to hunt down the perpetrators of the Kanungu massacre in which at least 500 people died in a church blaze.
Felix Osike quotes a highly-placed source as saying "experts from at least eight countries had expressed willingness to investigate the massacres and trace the whereabouts of any surviving cult leaders."
Hundreds of the followers of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God died in a fire believed to have been masterminded by the cult leaders.
Sources said investigators from Britain, the US, Germany, Italy, Kenya, South Africa and two unnamed countries were expected to play a leading role in the search for the killers.
Interpol Uganda has also contacted their counterparts elsewhere in the world to help in the investigations.
Top Uganda CID officers have gone abroad to establish the sect's external financiers.
A former member said cult leaders Father Dominic Kataribaabo and Sister Credonia Mwerinde used to slaughter a baby every Friday morning and drink its blood. The grisly ritual was intended to keep off spirits and the Government from unearthing the cult's criminal activities.
President Museveni recently said the Government would set up a judicial commission of inquiry into the cult and other such groups.
Investigators believe that the Kanungu horror was premeditated murder and not mass suicide as had earlier been thought.
Forensic experts said some of the bodies dug out from the mass graves had stab wounds and pieces of rolled and knotted cloth tied around their necks.
Sources said they believed some of the leaders could have survived and fled the country.
"We have informed some of the countries, the borders and the airports have been put on the alert," said a source.
Investigators at some of the foreign capitals are also in possession of portraits of the cult leaders.
Sources said some of the countries, which had agents of the doomsday sect, have also volunteered information.
Reports said cult chief Joseph Kibwetere and assistant Credonia Mwerinde fled Kanungu the night before the fire.
The Police are expected to circulate their portraits to other Interpol agencies.
("New Vision" [Kampala], March 29, 2000)
PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni has directed the National Security Council to submit to him a report on the mass suicide of the doomsday cult, reports John Kakande.
"The President wants a report on the cult's activities and mass suicide. He has told the council to give him a report as soon as possible," a reliable source told The New Vision yesterday.
The National Security Council is headed by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Prof. Edward Rugumayo.
"Our officers are already on the ground, gathering information. They have been there since last week and will be back soon to write a report on their findings," the source said.
The New Vision learnt that the council had instructed the national intelligence committee to draw-up the report.
Museveni last week promised a commission of inquiry into the cult and other similar groups.
Museveni told a press conference that the then assistant Resident District Commissioner for Rukungiri, the Rev. Mutazindwa, sat on a report from a subcounty Internal Security Officer who had said the members of the Kanungu doomsday cult were a threat to security.
Museveni said he had decided not to visit the scene of the horror because he thought the people had killed themselves.
On March 17, at least 530 followers of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God perished in what was suspected to be mass suicide.
By yesterday, at least 28 bodies had been retrieved from cult chief Father Dominic Kataribaabo's celler in his dressing room in Rugazi, Bushenyi.
Cult leaders Kibwetere and Credonia Mwerinde are said to be on the run. Interpol is hunting them.
by Matthias Mugisha ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 29, 2000)
TWENTY-EIGHT more bodies were found yesterday buried beneath a house belonging to one of the leaders of a Ugandan doomsday cult linked to the deaths of more than 500 people.
The 28 bodies, which included those of 20 children, were found under the concrete floor of a dressing room in the former home of Dominic Kataribaabo in the southwestern township of Rugazi.
The prisoners brought in to remove the bodies from the grave found the corpses of seven women, one man, nine girls and eleven boys.
According to some relatives, the bodies were found in what was originally a cellar. When Kataribaabo was still a priest, the room was used to store cassocks, wines and other things required for mass.
When he left the Church for the cult, the room became an underground store which he later sealed.
About 74 bodies were found during excavations in the grounds of the house on Monday.
This brings to 102 the number of bodies found within Kataribaabo's home alone.
Prisoners drafted in to excavate were continuing to bring out bodies, and were beginning to break up the concrete floor of another room to search for more victims.
The search was temporary abandoned for the night, but the Police said there were more bodies in the mass grave.
"There are more bodies (in the grave) than we have pulled out so far," said Police spokesman Asuman Mugenyi, adding that Police would return today to continue their work.
It is feared that many more bodies could be buried in and around the homes of several other cult leaders.
The discovery follows that of more than 540 bodies in a church belonging to the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God sect in Kanungu following a fire there on March 17, and 153 bodies in a mass grave in Kalingo on Friday.
Although the case was originally considered a mass suicide, Police are looking into the issue as murder, because of the large number of dead children.
After a cursory examination on Monday, a doctor said many of the victims from the first grave at Rugazi, which included 26 children, had been strangled or stabbed.
by Josephine Maseruka ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 29, 2000)
THE Bishop of Lugazi, Rt. Rev Mathius Ssekamanya, yesterday warned Ugandans against devil worship which has penetrated Ugandan community.
He said the Kanungu inferno of March 17, in which over 500 followers of Joseph Kibwetere perished, was satanic.
Ssekamanya refuted media reports that he talked to his former classmate and friend, Fr. Dominic Kataribaabo, two days to the Kanungu inferno.
On Tuesday, he was quoted by the media as having told a congregation at a mass at Kangulumira on Sunday that Emmanuel Cardinal Wamala asked him to woo Kataribaabo back to Catholicism.
Ssekamanya was quoted as saying he met Kataribaabo two days to the inferno.
Ssekamanya said when he tried to convince Kataribaabo to denounce Kibwetere's cult, he said he could not go back to a Church which could not directly communicate with God.
by John Kakande ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 29, 2000)
THE Assistant Commissioner of Prisons, W.J. Kururagyire, has said it was inhuman for Police to compel barefooted prisoners to exhume decomposing bodies of the followers of the Kanungu doomsday cult.
"It is definitely inhuman to expose prisoners to danger. When you assist someone with first aid, you should not become the next casualty," he said when contacted yesterday at the Prisons headquarters.
Kururagyire said the prisoners taken to dig up the various mass graves and exhume the bodies of the doomsday cult followers, should be availed with protective wear so that they are not exposed to danger.
Barefooted prisoners, on Monday exhumed 74 corpses from a third mass grave at the home of disgraced Catholic priest, Dominic Katirabaabo in Rugazi. The bodies were reburied later by the prisoners who worked throughout the day.
The prisoners only wore gloves, plain clothes and wound bandages around their noses. Some of the barefooted prisoners had to stand on rotting bodies in the grave. The Police and pathologists were in charge of the operation.
Kururagyire said he had not yet contacted the regional prisons commander to find out whether the prisoners were from the local or central government prisons. He said the Prisons department, on its own, could not avail protective wear to the prisoners due to resources constraints.
"Things are not as easy as you imagine," he said.
He said the Police used prisoners most likely because it lacked the personnel to handle the work.
by Semujju Waku and Dismus Buregyeya ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 29, 2000)
The Minister of Internal Affairs, Prof. Edward Rugumayo, has summoned the Assistant RDC in charge of Kabula county, Rakai district, Rev Robert Mutazindwa, to his office. Mutazindwa, who disappeared on March 15, was seen in Lyantonde yesterday.
by Nakalanzi Ruhweza ("New Vision" [Kampala], March 29, 2000)
THE Anglican Bishop, of Kinkizi Diocese, Rukungiri, John Wilson Ntegyereize, has said the doomsday cult did not believe in reproduction. This was in a letter he wrote to the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda explaining the activities of the cult.
Index Page: Ten Commandments of God: Mass Suicide in Uganda
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