Girls 'promised to doomsday cult leaders'

AAP, Australia/May 21, 2010

Girls as young as six have been allegedly promised in marriage to men linked to a doomsday cult under police investigation, an Adelaide grandmother says.

Lesley Baligod says she fears for the safety of her two granddaughters and other children involved with Agape Ministries, believing cult leaders are trying to flee to Vanuatu.

She says the religious group is preparing for the end of the world and its leaders believe girls should be married by the age of 12.

Ms Baligod said she contacted Families SA two months ago to express her concerns but was eventually told nothing could be done.

"There are 12 children caught up in this cult. Where are they? What has happened to them? What is happening to them as we speak?" she said.

Police searching for Agape Ministries leader Rocco Leo now say they believe they know his whereabouts.

They were also looking for his two main assistants after this week raiding 12 properties associated with the cult and uncovering a hoard of explosives, ammunition and weapons.

The raids involved 90 officers and netted 15 guns, slow-burning fuses, detonators, extendable batons and 35,000 rounds of ammunition, some of it high-powered.

Much of the cache was found in shipping containers and police said they believed the Agape leaders were planning to move their organisation offshore.

Investigations also centred on concerns followers had donated large sums of money, with the core group of 40-60 members selling their houses and businesses and handing over the proceeds.

South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon said he warned the state government about the cult a month ago but got little response.

Today, he called for the group's assets to be frozen and for tougher laws to deal with cults.

"Here we have a situation where this group has guns, they believe in the end of the world and there are kids involved,'' Senator Xenophon said.

"If that isn't a recipe for a potential disaster, I don't know what is."

South Australia's Families and Communities Minister Jennifer Rankine said her department was keeping a close eye on members of the Agape group.

Ms Rankine said she was aware of allegations that at least two children had been promised in marriage to older followers but there was no evidence of this and no indication the children were being mistreated.

Ms Baligod said her son became involved with Agape Ministries 17 years ago and the group had tried to recruit her other children.

"He's buried himself in that church," she said.

"You cannot argue with anybody who is completely brainwashed into a religious cult.

"If you try to say something, their eyes glaze over and they start praying in their head."

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