Five die in Feds battle with cult

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The Independent Online
WACO, TEXAS - Four federal agents and a member of an armed religious cult died in a fierce hour- long gun battle yesterday at a local ranch, authorities said.

At least 16 other people were wounded when shooting broke out as nearly 100 agents and police officers arrived at the ranch to arrest the group's leader, Vernon Howell, 33, who is said to believe he is Jesus Christ. The death toll was given by spokesmen of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Washington. Hospital spokesmen said most of the wounded were law enforcement officers.

The gun battle later stopped and agents and police surrounding the ranch had given a deadline for the cult members inside, believed to number about 75, to surrender, authorities said, adding that they hoped to end the confrontation without more bloodshed.

The Branch Davidian cult was founded in 1933 and is reported to believe in free love and that the end of the world is near.

Heavy gunfire erupted as agents and police surrounded the compound to arrest Mr Howell on weapons charges. The agency said Mr Howell was stockpiling weapons and explosives on the 77-acre compound known as Mount Carmel. Mr Howell has been described by former cult members as having 15 wives and to be a charismatic guitar player and beer drinker who claims to be Christ. But Mr Howell says he has only two children with his wife, Rachel.

The Waco Tribune-Herald reported in Saturday's edition that the group has about 75 members. The newspaper said that the group believed Mr Howell was the 'lamb' referred to in the Bible's Book of Revelations. They believed Mr Howell was the only one who could open the 'Seven Seals' that would precipitate catastrophic events that would end mankind and propel the group to heaven. A member told the newspaper Mr Howell restricted mothers in the group from filing birth certificates so that officials could not chart the number of babies born at the compound.

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