JERUSALEM — Israeli police on Sunday detained eight adults and six children belonging to a Denver-based apocalyptic Christian cult and said the group intended to carry out violent acts here to hasten the second coming of Christ.
Israeli officials, who are increasingly concerned that the countdown to 2000 will bring a number of Christian extremists to the Holy Land, identified those in custody as members of an American cult known as Concerned Christians. They were reported to have abandoned their homes and jobs in Colorado several months ago and headed to Jerusalem to await the millennium.
"They intended to carry out extreme acts of violence in the streets of Jerusalem toward the end of 1999 in order to begin a process that would bring about the second coming of Jesus," Jerusalem police spokesman Shmulik Ben-Ruby said.
Israel Prepares for Messianic Extremism
The spokesman said he could not release the names of those detained but said they were from three families, with children ranging from a few months to about 15 years old.
Two months ago, Israeli police formed a task force to deal with the possibility of violence here by doomsday cults and messianic groups as the turn of the century approaches.
"There is a great fear that among the 4 million or so visitors who are expected to come, there may be some who have ideas about the end of the world," said Ehud Sprinzak, a Hebrew University professor and expert on religious extremism who is advising police on the phenomenon.
"They are coming to one of the most volatile places on Earth, and the fear is that if Jesus Christ does not appear, some of them might try to help the messiah--according to their perceptions--by starting Armageddon," Sprinzak said. "There is concern that they could try to start a war between Jews and Arabs."
Other Christian groups also are arriving in the city, where tradition holds that Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Already, more than 100 American Christians have moved to the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem to wait for the millennium, residents say.
Police and health officials also predict an upsurge over the course of the year in the frequency of a psychiatric condition known as the "Jerusalem syndrome," in which visitors to the city are swept up in religious fervor and believe that they are the messiah.
Police said Sunday's raids on two houses in Jerusalem's hilly western suburbs were carried out by dozens of police officers and agents of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security service. The cult members, who had been under surveillance for more than a month, did not resist, officials said.
The group arrived in Israel last fall, evidently without the man identified as its leader, Monte Kim Miller, 44, Ben-Ruby said. Miller, who predicted that Denver would be destroyed in a massive earthquake last October, also has prophesied that he will die violently on the streets of Jerusalem in the final days of 1999.
According to various reports, Miller believes that he is able to channel the voice of God and that he will be resurrected three days after his death.
In late October, the cult leader and more than 70 of his followers suddenly dropped from sight. Several told relatives of hazy plans to travel abroad, sparking fears that they were headed to Jerusalem to carry out his apocalyptic vision. In November, Jerusalem police confirmed that a handful of the cultists had arrived here, but the whereabouts of the rest are still unknown. Officials in Colorado be lieve that at least some are in Mexico.
Jerusalem Police Chief Yair Yitzhaki said at the time that he believed the group was planning to commit mass suicide, much like the 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult who killed themselves in 1997 near San Diego.
But on Sunday, police indicated that the Denver group also poses a danger to others. Authorities said they had taken action to protect cult members who had fallen under Miller's sway as well as Israeli society as a whole.
Deportations More Likely Than Trials
Ben-Ruby said the cult members had not been charged. They probably will be deported rather than brought to trial in Israel, he said.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Larry Schwartz said a consular representative will visit those detained today or as soon as possible. Schwartz also said U.S. and Israeli officials already had held several discussions about the thousands of "millennial Christians" expected to arrive in Jerusalem over the next few months.
"We're aware that there are possible security threats in this," he said.
Despite the worries, Israeli officials emphasized Sunday that they plan to welcome visitors and to ensure religious freedom and access to the country's numerous holy sites. But they said they will "act firmly against attempts by extreme groups."