Prosecutors in the Netherlands opened an investigation into a doomsday cult after members kept their children home from school in anticipation of the end of the world, officials said yesterday.
Police began inquiries after five children stayed home in the eastern Dutch town of Borne. Public prosecutors were concerned by reports that members of the Efraim cult would be prepared to take their own lives if forecasts of doom didn't materialise. "If He [God] doesn't come for us, we will go ourselves," the group's leader has been quoted as saying.
"In co-operation with the police we decided to take the reports seriously," said Mischa Tol, a spokesman for the public prosecutor's office in Dordrecht. "Mainly because of the concern that they could take their lives into their own hands."
The group's leader, who calls himself Elia, claims on a website to be a prophet and that "God spoke to me" and warned of imminent disaster in the Western world. The group, which denies being a cult, has about 100 members, according to prosecutors. They are apparently refusing to contact friends and family and have been forced to bring younger children back to school.
The leader of Efraim, identified as J van Geene, lives in the small village of Puttershoek, 53 miles south of Amsterdam.
The group says it is searching for a bride for Jesus Christ ahead of the apocalypse and calls on followers "to respond to the invitation of the wedding" in return for eternal heaven.
On the website, written in five languages, Mr van Geene predicts that the end of the world is "very soon" and calls the 11 September attacks "a sign from God."