Movement for the Restoration of|
the Ten Commandments of God
March 18, 2000 - Suicide Cult in Uganda - Authorities in Uganda believe that up to 470 members of an obscure Catholic cult commited mass suicide by setting their church on fire. "The scene is horror," police spokesman Asuman Mugenyi told The Associated Press. "It is only about two or three bodies which you can say that these are men or women. The rest of the bodies are beyond human shape."
The cultist allegedly gathered at the church 200 miles southwest of the capital Kampala where they chanted and sang for hourse before lighting the place on fire. Authorities found that the windows and doors of the church had been nailed shut and the prayer mats were doused with gasoline. It is believed the congregation went up on flames when all the cultist lit their candles. "Prior to this incident their leader told believers to sell off their possessions and prepare to go to Heaven," a spokesman for Ugandan authorities said. One of the cult leaders, Joseph Kibweteere, known as "The Prophet", predicted the end of the world for December 31, 1999. When that didn't materialize, he moved the date up to December 31, 2000. Then, for some reason, changed it to March 17.
March 19, 2000 - Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God - New information on the Ugandan suicide cult reveals that one of the sect leader's, Bishop Joseph Kibwetere, a 68-year old failed Ugandan politician, preahed the world was about to be destroyed for not obeying the Ten Commandments. Kibwetere had been a prominent member of the Roman Catholic-based Democratic Party in the 1960s and 70s. But his political career ended abruptly when the rival Ugandan People's Congress led by Milton Obote won the election in 1980.
Seven years after he got out of politics Kibwetere recorder on tape a conversation he overheard between Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. In the conversation Christ and the Virgin Mary said the world would end on December 31, 1999. When the end of time didn't materialize Kibwetere and his associates came under pressure from the congregation to repay the money they gave them to prepare for the apocalypse. "That's when they hatched this new date of March 17," district adminstrator Kalule Ssengo told Reuters.
March 21, 2000 - Prisoners in Uganda have been digging a trench for a mass grave to bury the charred bodies of cult members who died in what's now being called a murder-suicide. Authorites believe that up to 600 cultist may have perished, though officially only 330 -- 78 0f them being children -- have been counted. Most of the victims are believed to be women. Neighbors who lived near the torched compound in Kanungu told police and reporters that sect members, who were forbidden to talk and communicated only by signs, prayers and songs, told them about a sighting of the Virgin Mary and that something big was going to happen March 17.
The cult, known as the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, was established around 1989 by Cledonia Mwerinde, a former prostitute, who built the cult's chapel on top of her father's grave. An offshoot of the Catholic Church, the cult grew to about 1,000 members with nine branches around Uganda. Following the mass suicide in Kanungu the other branches have been closed. A week before the suicide cult members started arriving from other parts of Uganda in buses and trucks. The cultist then feasted on roast bull and sodas after selling their possessions and telling friends goodbye. Reports claim that the cultist bought most of the coke available throughout southwestern Uganda to drink in their farewell dinner.
Police said they would charge with murder any adult members of the sect who may have survived the fire. The bodies of two of the five sect leaders have been identified. Authorities have also discovered at least five bodies buried under fresh cement in the compound's latrines. It is unclear when the people buried in the latrines died or who killed them.
March 25, 2000 - The hacked, poisoned and strangled bodies of 153 people have been found buried in three mass graves under the floor of an abandoned house belonging to one of the Ugandan death cult leaders. Of the dead 59 were children. With this new set of bodies the official death toll attributed to the cult now stands at 483 people. Following this latest discovery, authorities are treating all the cult deaths as homicides. And they say some of the cult's leaders may have escaped and will be charged with mass murder.
"It was definitely murder," chief police spokesman Assuman Mugenyi said after the new set of bodies - which apparently were buried six weeks ago -- were discovered. Police had at first thought the adult victims in the church inferno were willing participants and considered only the 78 children who died murder victims. "But now we have discovered these people who were murdered. Things have changed," Mugenyi told The Associated Press.
Apparently the cult's leaders murdered all their followers, possibly to steal their money. "It was a planned move to murder people, and we suspect these people must be on the run," Mugenyi told Reuters. Photographs of cult leaders were be circulated to newspapers and to Interpol to help with the search. "We are calling on the international community to assist us in finding these people," he said. "We suspect they may not be in this country."
April 1, 2000 - Since the fiery church murder-suicide, Ugandan authorities have found five mass graves indicating that cult leaders were systematically eliminating their followers. Authorities had to temporary halt the search for bodies in one location after uncovering yet another grave and ran out of body bags.
The death toll is expected to surpass 1,000 and continue rising after the revelation by a former sect member that relatives who came searching for missing loved ones were themselves killed with cups of poisoned tea. About 4,000 members of the sect are still thought to be missing and could presumably be dead. The murders of cult members' relatives appears to have been carried out at most of the church's compound. According to a former sect member, it was part of an elaborate plot to prevent members being rescued and revealing the "diabolical deeds" taking place inside the sect. "If a person came to the camp looking for his or her relatives, the cult leaders welcomed them, gave them a seat in the visitor's room and a cup of tea," said the former cult member, who defected before the church's fiery mass murder suicide. "The tea was poisoned. Later, he or she was taken to the cult offices when helpless and thrown into a pit."
The discovery of a fifth mass grave, in Kyata, near the southwestern town of Fort Portal, came as police made another arrest, their second since the Kanungu church fire. Joseph Ssettuba Assemande, known as "The Bishop", was arrested in the southwestern district of Rakai. It is not immediately clear whether he had an active role in the sect.
Authorities revealed that cult leaders spent thousands of dollars on radio ads seeking new recruits right as the cult itself was falling apart. The radio ads began in early December, announcing that the world would come to an end on December 31, 1999, and that anyone who wanted to go to heaven should join the cult before the arrival of Armageddon. When the end of the world failed to materialise, the ads continued until a week before the Kanungu church fire. Police suspect that the cult leaders may have hired or trained people to carry out the murders in the final weeks leading up to the church inferno.
April 2, 2000 - Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments - According to her estranged husband, Ugandan suicide cult leader and former prostitute Gredonia Mwerinda became a religious fanatic after she said she had a vision of the Virgin Mary. Gredonia was described by ex-members as a forceful and sometimes violent woman who said to have regular conversations with the Virgin Mary and Archangel Michael. Eric Mazima, her husband, said she was a dutiful and loving wife with little interest in religion until 1988 when she had her vision of the Virgin. "In the whole time I was with her she never went to church once," he said. "But because I could not see the same vision she left me."
During the memorial service Ugandan Vice President Speciosa Kazibwe called suicide cult leaders a bunch of "diabolic, malevolent criminals masquerading as holy and religious people." Kazibwe then acknowledged the failure of the country's police and intelligence agencies to detect and expose the murderous sect.
Bishop Joseph Kibwetere, the 68-year old failed Ugandan politician and founder of the cult claimed to have captured on tape a conversation between the Virgin Mary and Jesus, who were complaining how sinful the world had become. Gredonia joined his sect as soon as they met. Villagers said she quickly became Kibwetere's confidante and his lover. Preaching the evil of material possessions to her followers, she quickly grew rich from them. Paul Ikazire, a former cult member, said she seemed to have a firm grip on the reins of power -- even beating up Kibwetere's wife on one occasion for using soap, which was banned by the cult, along with conversation, sex, cigarettes and alcohol.
April 5, 2000 - Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments - Ugandan police, unable to cope with the magnitude of the murders, said they expected the number of victims of the "Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments" massacre to rise well into the thousands. Police also reported that they are overwhelmed by the numerous grave sites they still have to inspect since they only have one forensic expert and a limited number of police investigators and they have run out of body bags. In related cult backlash, police arrested Reverend Amooti Mutazindwa, an assistant district commissioner in southwest Uganda, for allegedly suppressing an intelligence report that suggested the cult posed a security threat.
April 7, 2000 - Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments - New information on cult leader Dominic Kataribabo revealed that in 1987, as a theology graduate student, he attended Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. The ordained Ugandan priest was granted "sacramental ministry" by the clergy in Los Angeles who helped sponsor his full scholarship to Loyola Marymount. Los Angeles Archdiocese records show Kataribabo was awarded the scholarship under a still-operating university program benefiting Third World priests.
On the other side of the world, arrest warrants were issued for Kataribabo, 32, "The Prophet" Joseph Kibwetere, "The Programmer" Credonia Mwerinde, and three others in connection with the cult-related massacres which, so far, have netted 924 victims. More than half the victims were inside church inferno March 17. The others have been found in several mass graves in and around the homes of cult leaders. Under Kataribabo's 10-room house police found 81 bodies beneath a newly poured cement floor. In the backyard, covered by a patch of sugarcane, they found the mutilated remains of 74 more people.
March 17, 2001 - A year after the fiery mass murder-suicide of at least 330 members of the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, police are still searching for the alleged cult leaders. In true Cult's R' Us fashion, the leaders of the church decided on March 17 to make judgment day a reality and, according to police, herded 330 people, mostly women and children, into the makeshift mud-and-wattle temple, sprinkled combustible material, nailed the doors and windows shut and torched it. In the following weeks, police followed the grisly trail to several houses owned or rented by presumed cult leaders, where they found 448 more bodies buried in the gardens and stashed under concrete floors.
Though police still guard the site of the burnt-out church, and officially the investigation continues. But authorities seem to have little prospect of tracking down the alleged cult leaders, Joseph Kibwetere, defrocked Catholic priest Dominic Kataribaabo and a woman named Cledonia Mwerinde, who passed herself off as a nun. Authorities say Kataribaabo was seen last year in Rwanda, at the camp of a different cult, and then in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Mwerinde, who once ran a bar, was seen in a village in southwestern Uganda. No one has seen Kibwetere, and many believe he could have perished in the fire.