Israel Detains Denver Cult Members
MEVASSERET ZION, Israel (AP) _ Israeli police swooped down Sunday on two homes in quiet, wooded Jerusalem suburbs, detaining 14 missing members of a Denver-based cult and foiling what they said was a bloody plot the apocalyptic group hoped would bring Christ’s return.
In carefully synchronized raids, dozens of uniformed and plainclothes police descended on two spacious homes a mile apart on Jerusalem’s hilly outskirts. The members of a group that calls itself Concerned Christians did not resist, and police said they will seek their deportation.
The cult drama three days into 1999 raised the curtain on what Israeli authorities fear could be months of turbulence leading up to the turn of the millennium. Tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims are expected to visit the Holy Land this year, but officials worry the millennium also will draw deranged extremists seeking to live out apocalyptic fantasies.
Seventy-eight of the group’s members vanished in October from the Denver area. The detainees had been under police surveillance for a month.
Police said the group had planned to provoke a millennial shoot-out by opening fire on them, believing that their own deaths in the subsequent bloodbath would help bring about the Second Coming.
``They planned to carry out violent and extreme acts in the streets of Jerusalem at the end of 1999 to start the process of bringing Jesus back to life,″ said Brig. Gen. Elihu Ben-Onn, the national police spokesman.
A senior police source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said cult members believed that being killed by police would ``lead them to heaven.″
Some of the planned violent acts were to have been carried out in Jerusalem’s walled Old City, the source said, possibly including the hilltop known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary _ traditionally a flashpoint for religious tensions.
Cult leader Monte Kim Miller, 44, was not among those detained; police said he was not in Israel. The former Denver resident has described himself as a figure in the biblical Book of Revelation, and has prophesied his own violent death in Jerusalem this year.
Neighbors at both locations who were shown photographs of the missing cultists said they thought they recognized some of them. Police would not release names of any of the suspects detained, and Israeli law prohibits publication of suspects’ names until they appear in court.
Suspects may be held up to 48 hours before appearing in court, but police said they intend to ask the Interior Ministry, which grants or revokes foreigners’ permission to remain in Israel, to deport them.
Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said the children and their mothers were not in jail, but at an ``institutional office.″ Ben-Ruby wouldn’t say where the rest of the adults were, but said the men were ``in custody.″ The group, he said, would not necessarily appear in court.
Ministry spokeswoman Tova Eilinson said once a formal request was received from the police, the interior minister would consider it.
A U.S. Embassy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a consular official would visit the suspects in custody as soon as possible.
Underscoring the matter’s sensitivity, the raids _ which capped a month of police surveillance _ were personally overseen by Jerusalem police commander Yair Yitzhaki. The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, also was heavily involved.
The two homes, in the well-off western Jerusalem suburbs of Mevasseret Zion and Moza, were similar: both large, built of yellow Jerusalem stone and surrounded by flowering plants.
Neighbors described the tenants of both houses as polite and friendly, but noted unusual behavior that included the fact that the adults did not appear to have jobs and the children did not go to school.
``In retrospect, there were some things that seemed weird,″ said Rami Chanono, 30, whose parents live next door to the Mevasseret Zion home.
The vanished members of the Concerned Christians represent a cross-section: white and black, married and single, white-collar professionals and unemployed laborers. They range in age from infancy to 68.
Guesses as to the whereabouts of Miller and other followers include Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Toronto or Libya. The exact size of the cult is not known, but it is not thought to be much larger than the 78 people who already have disappeared.
Members of cultists’ families have testified as to their apocalyptic beliefs.
``My mother told me in August ’96 that we have only 40 months left on Earth,″ said an affidavit filed in a Boulder, Colo. district court in 1997 by 16-year-old Nicolette Weaver, whose mother was a cult member. ``My mother told me that if Kim Miller told her to kill me, she would.″
Despite worries about potential violence associated with the millennium, Israeli officials emphasize that they want to welcome visitors and protect religious freedom. But Yitzhaki, the police chief, said authorities would ``act firmly against the attempts of extreme groups.″