Mass suicide bid on top of Tenerife’s volcano fails

Spanish police foiled a mass suicide planned by a 30-strong sect whose members believed their souls would be carried away by spaceship from the summit at Tenerife’s Teide volcano, yesterday.

The group, which may be linked to the infamous Solar Temple suicide cult or a Hindu apocalyptic sect, was convinced that the world would end at 2000 GMT on Thursday evening, according to a Canaries government official.

They were planning to end their lives on earth and travel by spaceship to a new world. Police who had been tracking the group, arrested their leader, German psychologist Heide Fittkau-Garthe, late on Wednesday alleging inducement to suicide.

They identified 29 other sect members, including 20 women and four children, all of them German nationals except for one woman from the Canary Islands.

They were staging a “last supper” at a private residence in the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife before police intervened, officials said.

The group was said to have planned to use rented cars to reach the Teide volcano, where they believed they were to be picked up by the spaceship.

Officials believe the Canaries group emerged from the Isis Holistic Centre in Santa Cruz. They started watching closely for cult activity in the Canary Islands a year ago after noticing a growing number of what they called “destructive sects”.

“Inducement to suicide is a crime, and for that reason the security forces had to avoid this evil thing,” Antonio Lopez, the Canaries official, told a news conference. “It is not even clear which branch the sect is, whether it is the socalled Solar Temple cult or whether it is a splinter of this group….Many types are possible, based on the personality of the leader.”

The group’s followers, who were not detained with their leader, refused to speak to police.

Officials said they appeared to still be under Fittkau-Garthe’s influence.

Neighbours near the whitewashed chalet where the sect had gathered said they had noticed nothing out of the ordinary.

“I didn’t know what they were doing there. I thought maybe they were exercising,” one woman told Spanish television.

Since 1994, 74 followers of the Solar Temple cult have committed suicide.

The sect believes that death voyages by ritualised suicide lead to rebirth in a place called “Sirius”.

In March last year, Marshall Applewhite, the charismatic leader of the Heaven’s Gate religious cult and 38 followers committed suicide in San Diego, California, believing that an alien space ship hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet would transport them to heaven.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday January 9, 1998.
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