French officials move to pre-empt possible mass murder-suicide ritual

French police ushered in spring 1996 by rounding up members of Order of the Solar Temple, whose members have committed two mass murder-suicides in Europe and Canada since October 1994. About 200 French police questioned 50 group members and placed six of them in protective custody. A judge ordered the actions out of fear that the convergence of the spring equinox, a full moon and the anniversaries of two of the movements leader's deaths would prompt yet another mass death of Solar Temple members. No such incident occurred this time.

Last Dec. 23, the burned remains of 14 Solar Temple members were found on the snow in a star formation in a forest clearing about 18 miles southeast of Grenoble in the French Alps. Two other unburned bodies of French policemen lay nearby. Police believe the two policemen, who were Solar Temple members, apparently shot the others through the head and set the bodies on fire before killing themselves.

In October 1994, 53 Solar Temple members were found burned to death in buildings in the Swiss Alps and in Canada. Solar Temple members believe death enables them to travel to the star Sirius, where they assert their founder lives.

French Prime Minister Alain Juppe recently agreed to establish a state operation to watch religious cults, and the Justice Ministry recently instructed state prosecutors to be on the lookout for potentially dangerous sect activities.

(From "Police crack down on doomsday cult to ward off new mass suicides" by Thierry Boinet, Associated Press, March 22, 1996.)

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