Cult mem­bers die in ‘mass sui­cide’

Malta Independent - - NEWS -

The bod­ies of 48 cult mem­bers have been dis­cov­ered by Swiss po­lice fol­low­ing an ap­par­ent mass sui­cide.

Twenty-three of the bod­ies were found in a con­cealed cham­ber be­neath a re­mote farm­house in the vil­lage of Cheiry, 48 miles north-east of Geneva.

A fur­ther 25 bod­ies, in­clud­ing some chil­dren, were re­cov­ered in three burnt-out chalets in Granges-sur-Sal­van, 47 miles east of Geneva, near the Ital­ian bor­der.

The deaths have been linked to the apoc­a­lyp­ti­cal Or­der of the So­lar Tem­ple sect, which was founded in 1984 by Dr Luc Jouret and Joseph di Mam­bro.

The Or­der of the So­lar Tem­ple con­dones the mass stock-pil­ing of weapons to pre­pare for the end of the world.

Just hours be­fore the grisly dis­cov­er­ies in Switzer­land, the bod­ies of two more peo­ple, also be­lieved to be linked to the sect, were found in Que­bec, Canada, in a burntout apart­ment owned by Dr Jouret.

It is not known yet whether ei­ther of the cult lead­ers are among the dead, but the Swiss au­thor­i­ties have said they are search­ing for two peo­ple in con­nec­tion with the deaths.

Gun­shot wounds

In Cheiry, emer­gency ser­vices were called to the farm­house af­ter lo­cals re­ported a fire.

Ini­tially they only dis­cov­ered the body of the farm’s owner, 73-year-old Al­berto Gi­a­cobino, who was ly­ing dead on a bed with a plas­tic bag over his head. He had also been shot.

The con­cealed cham­ber, cov­ered in mir­rors, was dis­cov­ered dur­ing a search of the prop­erty for fur­ther bod­ies.

Many of the bod­ies were found with gun­shot wounds and plas­tic bags over their heads. Oth­ers were found clasp­ing their hands in prayer. Most of the bod­ies were clad in cer­e­mo­nial robes.

Ac­cord­ing to res­cuers, cham­pagne bot­tles lit­tered the floor and the vic­tims were ly­ing in a star for­ma­tion.

On a make-shift al­tar within the cham­ber there was a rose, a cross and a pic­ture of Mr Jouret. The sect’s motto is ‘Rose Eter­nal Cross.’ Plas­tic bags of petrol and gas cylin­ders wired up to ex­plode by a tele­phone sig­nal were found although the sys­tem had failed to work. It is thought a sec­ond fire was started man­u­ally else­where in the build­ing.

A sim­i­lar timer de­vice had also been rigged up in Granges-sur-Sal­van. How­ever, it is thought the dead may have been drugged or poi­soned be­fore the fires be­gan.

Lo­cal peo­ple in both idyl­lic vil­lages had no idea that cult mem­bers had been liv­ing in their midst and have been left shocked by the events of the past 24 hours.

Sim­i­lar­i­ties are be­ing made to events in Jon­estown in Guyana in 1978 when 914 peo­ple led by the Rev­erend Jim Jones, com­mit­ted sui­cide in a jun­gle clear­ing.

And just last year in Waco, Texas 80 mem­bers of the Branch Da­vid­ian sect, led by David Koresh, died af­ter fire broke out dur­ing a siege.

It was re­vealed fol­low­ing the mass sui­cides that the Or­der of the So­lar Tem­ple sect owned ex­ten­sive prop­erty in Switzer­land, Canada and France and was heav­ily in­volved in money laun­der­ing and arms traf­fick­ing.

In­ter­na­tional ar­rest war­rants were is­sued for Luc Jouret and Joseph di Mam­bro who were sus­pected of mass mur­der, but their bod­ies were even­tu­ally dis­cov­ered among the dead in Switzer­land.

Two days af­ter the Swiss sui­cides the bod­ies of An­to­nio and Nikki Du­toit and their three-month old son, Christo­pher, were found mur­dered in their home at Morin Heights, Que­bec. The cou­ple had left the Or­der of the So­lar Tem­ple sect three years pre­vi­ously but pos­si­bly “knew too much.”

In De­cem­ber 1995, 16 mem­bers of the sect were found dead in France and in March 1997 five more died in Que­bec.

In 2001, Michel Tabach­nik, a for­mer con­duc­tor with the Cana­dian Opera Com­pany, was cleared of con­tribut­ing to the 74 deaths of the mem­bers of the Or­der of the So­lar Tem­ple be­tween 1994 and 1997.

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