Some 20 people in Tanzania have been charged with murdering seven men they suspected of practising witchcraft.
Among the accused are village leaders and other local officials, who ordered the killings, according to the police.
They had organised a secret ballot where residents named the alleged witches and wizards, who were then attacked with machetes and spears.
Seven others were injured in the attacks police describe as the most atrocious ever seen in the area.
Those on the hit list, drafted by village leaders near Makete in Iringa region, were advised to leave their homes immediately or face the consequences.
Regional Police Commander Omar Mganga told the BBC that those who defied the local authorities’ orders were then attacked by a killing squad of young men using clubs, machetes and spears.
“Our investigations showed that the victims were under the suspicion of fellow villagers’ murders, after relatives noticed that certain organs were removed from the bodies of their loved ones,” Police Commander Omar Mganga said.
During several raids, the police found the names of the murdered and injured victims in the minutes of one of the village meetings.
Some of the suspects, who appeared in Njombe magistrates court on Wednesday, include a councillor, a village chairperson and executive officers, a businessmen and farmers.
Their alleged involvement has shocked residents and police in the district.
‘Police, judge, jury and executioner’
What is more worrying to many is the method of nominating people who are suspected of being involved in witchcraft.
Two months ago, villagers in a neighbouring district used a secret ballot to make a list of people who they claimed were responsible for killing old women and removing their internal organs for witchcraft purposes.
But they passed their list of suspects to the police, unfortunately, Police Commander Omar Mganga said, leaders of the three villages near Makete decided to be the police, judge, jury and executioner in these chilling and cruel murders.
Witchcraft-related murders seem to occur in this region during the harvest season, when some people believe that if fresh human blood or dried and powdered internal human organs are sprinkled over land and buildings then business will be successful.
In recent years, the trade in human organs has been on the increase in this southern part of Tanzania.
Human skinning, which hit the headlines two years ago, still haunts neighbouring Mbeya region where six young people were thought to have been killed and skinned.
The case will continue in two weeks.
We appreciate your support
One way in which you can support us — at no additional cost to you — is by shopping at Amazon.com.
Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission — at no additional cost to you — for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this service free of charge.