48 die in cult suicide pact

AT LEAST 48 members of a religious sect died yesterday in what is believed to have been a mass suicide pact in two Swiss villages.

The ruins of a burnt-out chalet had not been properly searched last night, suggesting that the death toll could rise. An audio cassette which might help to explain the deaths had still to be analysed.

The 48 victims discovered so far - all of Canadian, Swiss or French nationality - were found after fires erupted shortly after midnight in the village of Cheiry, near Berne in the canton of Fribourg, and 50 miles away in Granges-sur-Salvan, in Valois, near the Italian border. The roof of one chalet in Granges collapsed. A magistrate in Cheiry said police wanted to interview two people about the deaths.

Firemen called to the Ferme de la Rochette, above Cheiry, found the farm's Swiss owner, Alberto Giacobino, dead with a bullet wound to his head and a binliner tied round his neck. A cassette was taped to his bedroom door.

The firemen then followed a trail of blood to a concealed door leading into a corridor stained with blood and littered with champagne bottles. Off the corridor was a room in which 19 bodies were laid in a circle, their heads pointing outwards. Some were dressed in red and black capes; most had bags over their heads and several had been shot. A 10- year-old child was among the dead. Three more bodies were found elsewhere on the farm. One room contained an altar.

The other 25 dead were in two of the three chalets which caught fire in Granges. Of the Cheiry deaths, Pierre Nidegger, the Fribourg police chief, said: 'It appears to be a collective suicide carried out by a sect. They probably died on Tuesday afternoon.'

The sect was led by Luc Jouret, 46, a Brussels-trained homeopathic doctor, and had various names such as 'The Cross and the Rose', 'The Temple of the Sun' or 'The Temples of the Golden Sun'.

Jean-Francois Mayer, a Swiss specialist on sects, said Mr Jouret had founded the 'Arcadia clubs' in the 1980s. These disbanded in 1990 and some of their members joined Mr Jouret's sect, he said.

Inhabitants of Cheiry, who called the sect members the 'seed-eaters' because they cultivated macrobiotic food, said that although they were secretive, they had not caused any particular worry in the village.

However, police said their suspicions had been aroused by a steady flow of cars, mostly rented at Geneva airport, arriving at the farm recently. It had been kept under surveillance in the belief that the movements might be connected to the drugs trade, and there had been reports that sect members had been trying to buy firearms.

The sect appeared to be under no particular pressure. In previous collective suicides - such as that of more than 900 people in Jonestown, Guyana, in 1978 and in Waco, Texas, last year - there was a threat from the authorities.

A restaurant owner interviewed by Swiss radio said a group of the Cheiry sect members ate what may have been their last meal at his restaurant on Monday. They were morose and stopped talking when staff approached.

Police said the fires were set off by fuses connected to electrical timers which ignited cans of petrol. A similar fire destroyed a luxurious flat owned by Mr Jouret in Quebec two days earlier, killing two people. Mr Jouret left Canada last year after being questioned about illegal possession of a firearm. He has not been back.

Mr Jouret preached the 'interpenetration' of different forms of life and said man had only 10 years in which to repair his neglect of the environment and save the world. Last year the sect was linked to several employees of Hydro-Quebec, a large Quebec electrical power utility.

Canadian police have not yet identified the badly charred bodies of a man and a woman who both wore medallions with the initials T and S. However, they were found in the part of the building registered in the names of two of Mr Jouret's associates.

The Doomsday sect, page 11

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £23,000

£13500 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning, Bolton base...

Recruitment Genius: Client Account Executive

£23000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Account Executive is r...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Executive

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Full Time position available now at a growing...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future