Russia detains Siberian sect leader over allegations he harmed followers

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian security forces detained a prominent mystic and other leaders of the “Church of the Last Testament” sect in a remote part of Siberia on Tuesday over allegations they had damaged followers’ health, police said.

The Investigative Committee, Russia’s equivalent of the U.S. FBI, said in a statement that the religious group had used psychological pressure to extract money from its followers and caused serious harm to their health.

Sergei Torop, a former traffic policeman known to his followers as Vissarion, set up the Church of the Last Testament sect in a remote part of Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk region in 1991, the year the Soviet Union broke up.

The bearded mystic with long hair attracted thousands of followers, some of whom believe he is the reincarnation of Christ.

The operation to detain him, as well as group leaders Vadim Redkin and Vladimir Vedernikov, involved the police as well as members of the Federal Security Service, the successor agency to the KGB.

Two of the detained men, one with scraggly long grey hair, were shown in security TV footage after their arrest as masked officers in camouflage fatigues led them from a bus to a helicopter.

The men could face up to 12 years in jail if found guilty, the RIA news agency reported. A lawyer for the men could not immediately be reached for comment.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth/Andrew Osborn; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn