Police foil doomsday cult's final countdown

Straits Times Indonesia Bureau/November 11, 2003
By Robert Go

Jakarta -- Dozens of policemen broke into a church in West Java yesterday and led away 285 singing and praying members of a doomsday cult waiting for the end of the world and the reappearance of Jesus Christ.

Fearing the believers had deadly back-up plans if Judgment Day never came, police forced the door of the Bandung church just after 3pm, the hour cult leader Mangapin Sibuea, 59, had told the faithful they would be 'saved'.

Witnesses said the Prophet's House followers - dressed in a uniform of white shirts and black trousers - were furious at the intrusion but offered little resistance.

The followers included children as young as six and men in their 70s, and were visibly weakened by a 10-day fast. They had burned clothes and personal items.

Leader Sibuea, who claims he is the second coming of the Apostle Paul, is in police custody and faces charges of defaming a religion. Eleven others are being questioned by police.

A West Java police source said: 'We wanted to make sure they had no weapons or poisons on the premises.'

None had been found last night but police justified their actions saying the fast imposed on cult members had caused health problems.

About 20 followers were given medical treatment.

Mr Simon Timorason, head of the Christian Communication Forum's West Java branch, told The Straits Times: 'Some looked very sick and couldn't resist being moved. The police acted because we feared the cult would do something drastic otherwise.'

The source said the cult had been watched by police for a year after complaints from the local community about its 'deviant beliefs'.

Observers said cults are rare in Indonesia but warned some groups had sprouted followings after the onset of the country's economic crisis in the late 1990s.

Cult leader Sibuea, local religious leaders said, started his group in 1999 and attracted believers from all parts of the country.

There are at least two other similar Christianity-based cults in West Java, and an estimated 10 on Java Island.

'Groups that offered its followers the kind of salvation that Prophet's House taught became more popular in the last few years,' Mr Timorason said.

'This is clearly a result of the crisis that has been experienced in the country, a result of people seeking escape.'

Witnesses said some cult members had said doomsday had not arrived because police broke in. They insisted it would still come within the next few hours.

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