A police spokesman, Commander Elihu Ben-Onn, said last night: "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'.
"The arrests were carried out to protect certain sectors of the Israeli population and members of the cult themselves, who blindly follow a leader who is overseas."
The apocalyptic sect, known as Concerned Christians, is based in Denver, Colorado. Israeli police and secret services have been watching for them since their leader, Monte Kim Miller, and 77 of his followers disappeared from their homes there in October.
Mr Miller, 44, prophesied that he would die in Jerusalem in the final days of the 20th century. However, he was not among those arrested yesterday. Israeli sources said that the cult planned to provoke a shoot-out with the police which would "lead them to Heaven".
The Americans, who had been under surveillance for a month, were arrested in two rented houses in the western Jerusalem suburbs of Mevasseret Zion and Moza. They did not resist. It is not known how many other members of the cult are in Israel.
Denver police investigator Mark Roggeman, who has tracked the group and tipped off the Israeli Government that they were coming, said:
"I've studied cults for 25 years, and this is a good thing.
"It is something that is out of Miller's control. It shakes them up emotionally. This shows he is fallible, that God doesn't speak through him."
Israel is expecting up to four million Christian pilgrims for the millennium celebration. Security and psychiatric services are on the alert in case any try to provoke some kind of catastrophe to bring back the Messiah.
The main Jerusalem psychiatric hospital treats about 100 patients - both Christians and Jews - a year for what is known as the "Jerusalem Syndrome." In 1968 an Australian Christian fundamentalist set fire to Al Aqsa mosque, the third most holy in Islam, in the hope of enabling Israel to build a Jewish temple on the site.Reuse content