THE security service MI5 has warned police chiefs and senior government officials about the threat of mass suicides and organised violence from millennium doomsday cults operating in Britain and abroad. Experts in MI5's counter-terrorist section have conducted a detailed "threat assessment" of what MI5 calls "apocalyptic and millennial groups", examining the risk that some might resort to shootings or bombings as well as chemical or biological attacks on the public.
The cults seen as most dangerous are those that believe the world will end in sudden disaster or a final battle against evil. Some expect Armageddon to arrive with the new millennium; a few are said to be willing to use violence to bring about doomsday.
The MI5 report says an incident similar to that carried out by the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo religious group on the Tokyo underground four years ago cannot be discounted. The Japanese cult killed 12 people in a nerve gas attack. In Britain, counter-terrorist officials, whose report has just been approved by Stephen Lander, head of MI5, are concerned about the possibility of sects poisoning reservoirs. Their assessment also says some groups or individuals could engage in terrorist attacks on targets such as the Millennium Dome or the River Thames celebrations, and warns of the possibility of mass suicides. In recent years there were mass suicides by members of the Solar Temple cult in Switzerland, France and Canada. Two years ago 39 members of the Heaven's Gate sect died in a group suicide in San Diego, California. Security officials pointed last week to a study by the FBI in America that concluded: "Extremists from ideological perspectives attach significance to the arrival of the year 2000, and there are signs of preparations for violence."
One dangerous cult identified in the MI5 report is the Concerned Christians, an apocalyptic American sect with several dozen members in Britain. The cult's leader, Monte Kim Miller, was deported from Israel last year. Miller predicts he will be killed by Satan on the streets of Jerusalem this month. He says he expects to be resurrected as Christ three days later. Miller's stepmother, Gwen, speaking from her home in Colorado, said she had no idea where he was: "God knows what he's doing."
The group's leader in Britain is Tom Cook, a former Vietnam veteran. Last week The Sunday Times tracked him to his home in Finchley, north London. He has distributed propaganda videos and leaflets for cult members. He insists the group preaches peace, not war.
One British-based group, The Family, is preparing for the end of the world in 2006. Members are said to be stockpiling food and planning to hide in caves in India.