Russian doomsday sect leader attempts suicide

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, April 3 (RIA Novosti) – While 11 members of a doomsday sect remain holed up in their underground shelter after more than five months, their leader has tried to kill himself, local prosecutors said on Thursday.

Pyotr Kuznetsov, 43, has been admitted to a hospital near Penza, about 600 km (370 miles) southeast of Moscow, and underwent an operation on Wednesday after suffering head wounds.

“This was a suicide attempt,” a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office said. “Kuznetsov inflicted cuts on himself with some kind of object.”

Thirty five of Kuznetsov’s followers went underground in November to wait for the end of the world, which he had told them would come in May. He is also reported to have said that they would be given the power to decide who would be sent to hell and who would go to heaven after the Apocalypse. The sect, known as ‘Heavenly Jerusalem,’ had earlier pledged to commit mass suicide if any attempt was made to force them to come to the surface.

The spokesperson said the sect leader’s injuries are not life-threatening, and his health is said to be “good”. He is currently under observation.

A report on Wednesday evening on the Russian Vesti TV channel had claimed that Kuznetsov had been beaten by his own followers.

However, the Penza Region’s deputy governor, Oleg Melnichenko, said Kuznetsov had suffered a skull fracture after placing his head on a plank of wood, and repeatedly striking himself with another plank.

Kuznetsov, known to his followers as Father Pyotr, was recently involved in negotiations that resulted in 21 sect members, including four children, leaving the dugout. Much of the group’s underground shelter has collapsed due to thaw waters and heavy rain. The 11 sect members still underground are all adults.

A number of the recently-emerged sect members are staying in Kuznetsov’s house in the nearby village of Nikolskoye.

The sect leader did not join his followers in the shelter, saying that he had “another mission in life.” He was earlier charged with inciting religious and racial hatred, but was declared mentally unfit to stand trial last week.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday April 3, 2008.
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