Cult waits for 'instructions given by God': The Texas siege drags on into its fourth day as David Koresh, who believes he is the Messiah, refuses to leave his compound peacefully

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The Independent Online
THE LEADER of an extremist religious cult last night remained holed up in his Texas country fortress with a band of fanatical followers, who include 45 Britons, after telling negotiators that he was 'awaiting further instructions from God'.

David Koresh, who believes he is the Messiah, spurned pleas to end the four-day siege even though he and two others are believed to be wounded and an estimated 10 cult members are lying dead around their headquarters near Waco.

The FBI said Mr Koresh, 33, broke a promise to surrender on Tuesday - although the authorities met his condition that a rambling hour-long taped religious sermon be broadcast on nationwide Christian radio - informing negotiators that 'God had told them to wait'.

Earlier, police and federal forces, who have surrounded the sect's compound since four agents were killed in a gun battle, had been hastily preparing for the siege to end.

While Mr Koresh, a failed rock musician, was awaiting divine inspiration surrounded by his stash of arms, the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) broke a two-day silence by briefing the hundreds of journalists who have descended on Waco, a church-going country town 80 miles south of Dallas.

Officials revealed that there are more 'God's Marines' inside the compound than originally estimated.

Mr Koresh has claimed there were 110 people still inside, including 47 women and 20 children, said an FBI Special Agent, Jeffrey Jamar. Since the stand-off began, 18 children - including three Britons -have been freed.

The presence of so many women and children may explain why the FBI says it will not storm the compound, which has a cache of high-powered armaments. Hundreds of police and federal agents have ringed the cult's 77- acres of farmland, supported by Bradley armoured vehicles, snipers, a tank, and a formidable array of weaponry. 'Our goal is to resolve the situation in federal court with no further bloodshed,' said Mr Jamar, who is in charge of the FBI operation.

David Hook, the British vice-consul in Houston, visited Waco yesterday to gather information about the Britons whom Mr Koresh lured to Texas to join his sect - the 'Branch Davidians', which believes in the imminent end of the world.

He conducted recruiting drives in Britain.

A relative of one of the Britons, Winston Blake, said that the family believed he was being held against his will.

'Koresh takes their passports from them so they cannot leave,' said Pamela Blake, a niece. 'He's been brainwashed and is in fear of his life.'

The stand-off began on Sunday after more than 100 ATF agents descended on the cult to arrest Mr Koresh, who has refused to leave his fortress for months, for possessing illegal firearms. They were met with a 45-minute barrage of heavy gunfire from automatic weapons, which killed four agents.

The ATF, which had infiltrated the cult with an undercover operative, claimed the Davidians were tipped off about the raid by telephone. 'There was no doubt they were expecting our arrival,' said Dan Hartnett, ATF assistant director.

Tense telephone negotiations, involving specially trained FBI officials, continued yesterday but cult members are unlikely to have been encouraged by the reception given to two women, aged 75 and 77, who left the compound only to be arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder. The FBI believes the cultists have ample food supplies.

According to the Houston Chronicle, there could be as many as 15 dead people in the compound. Other reports, from anonymous federal officials, place the figure at 10. The FBI said that the number of bodies was uncertain.

Emotions are running high on both sides of the bullet-pocked walls that separate Mr Koresh and his followers from the outside world.

Officers from the ATF, which is mourning the bloodiest operation in its 74-year history, have taken to wearing black bands across their badges, some carrying the motto: 'Nemo me impune lacessit', (Nobody harms me with impunity). The agency, whose years of tackling the US's most violent gangsters has contributed to its gung-ho image, dismissed the motto as a harmless tradition.

The ATF has been harshly criticised for the handling of Sunday's long-rehearsed operation, in which it was outgunned by the cultists who are thought to have a .50 calibre machine-gun, AK-47s, AR-15s, M-16s, Israeli assault rifles, numerous pistols and night vision equipment. A Texas district attorney, with experience of dealing with the Branch Davidians, said the attempt to storm the fortified compound was 'a vulgar display of power on the part of the feds'.

Officials said the 18 freed children, aged between five months and 11 years, were in 'very good condition', considering their ordeal. Mr Koresh has been accused of beating infants and having sex with under-age girls, but the children showed no outward signs of abuse. Local officials now face the complex task of determining custody - the long-haired, bespectacled Mr Koresh fathered many of them.

Evidence is emerging that the US authorities were told long ago that Mr Koresh, with his arsenal of weapons and unorthodox sexual practices, was out of control. Some months ago a group of former cult members in Australia hired a private detective to go to Texas to try to persuade the authorities to arrest him.

(Photograph omitted)

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