JERUSALEM (Jan. 4)
With the countdown to the year 2000 already under way, Israel has taken its first action to stem possible disturbances by some of the hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims expected to visit here to mark the millennium.
On Sunday, Israeli police arrested members of a Denver-based apocalyptic Christian cult suspected of planning violent actions in the coming year in order to try to bring about the second coming of Jesus.
Capping a surveillance operation that lasted several months, Israeli security forces detained eight members of the cult, known as the Concerned Christians, and six of their children.
The police roundup was the first by a special task force, established in conjunction with the Shin Bet domestic security service, to deal with the possibility that dangerous elements will be among the hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims expected to flock to the Holy Land for celebrations marking the second millennium since the birth of Jesus.
Israeli security officials began their investigation of the cult members after receiving information from the FBI that 78 members of the cult had disappeared from their homes in the Denver area in October.
At a detention hearing Monday for three of the cult members, police said the suspects pose a threat to public order and could face charges of conspiracy to commit a crime.
The Interior Ministry, meanwhile, called for the deportation of all the cultists.
The head of the Concerned Christians cult, Monte Kim Miller, 44, has declared he will die in the streets of Jerusalem in 1999. Miller was not among those arrested by Israeli police.
According to reports, the cult members did not resist when police raided their homes in the Jerusalem suburbs of Mevasseret Zion and Motza.
One member of the cult was said to have denied allegations of planned violence or collective suicide.
Israelis who lived next door to the cult members described their neighbors as polite, but added that they kept to themselves.
Aliza Hanouni, who lived next door to the house rented in Mevasseret Zion, was quoted as saying that there was something that did not sit right with her about her neighbors, but she could not place it.
Her husband, Nir, said he became wary when he noticed that his neighbors did not appear to be going to work and their children did not attend any school.
In anticipation of problems connected to the millennium, Israeli officials created a task force — including representatives from the police, Shin Bet and Mossad foreign intelligence service — to monitor those who may engage in acts of violence connected to the mass pilgrimage.
Said Tourism Minister Moshe Katzav, who heads a ministerial committee on events connected with the year 2000, “We are continuing to follow the matter and will take the necessary steps. We want the year 2000 to pass quietly.”