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Sunday, January 11, 1998 Published at 05:26 GMT

World: Europe

Cult leader sent to jail
image: [ Fittkau-Garthe's home in Tenerife ]
Fittkau-Garthe's home in Tenerife

A Spanish judge has sent a German cult leader to jail on charges that she planned a mass suicide of her group's members.

After five hours of questioning, psychologist Heide Fittkau-Garthe, 57, was ordered to prison without bail by Judge Juan Luis Lorenzo Bragado on charges of induction to suicide, attempted murder and belonging to an illegal group, the national news agency EFE said.

The BBC's Joanne Episcopo reports from Madrid (Dur: 1-19)
Fittkau-Garthe was arrested on Wednesday and accused of planning to induce the 31 members of the sect she headed to kill themselves before 8pm (1900 GMT) on Thursday, when they believed the world would end.

On her arrest, the followers, who included five children, told police that they had expected a space ship to pick up their bodies from Teide mountain on the island of Tenerife.

The sect, whose name was not made known, has been linked to the Order of the Solar Temple whose followers have carried out mass suicides in Canada, France and Switzerland.

Charges "unfounded"

Defense lawyer Enrique Porres described the charges as unfounded and said Fittkau-Garthe had denied them and would appeal the jail order.

The judge's report said there was evidence that the accused headed a "destructive" group and planned its collective suicide.

[ image: A couple watch the police search their home for followers of the cult]
A couple watch the police search their home for followers of the cult
It said Fittkau-Garthe had been denounced by the daughter of one of her followers and a former member of the sect, Claudia Remlinger.

From Germany, Remlinger is said to have given police information regarding the alleged planned mass suicide and the apocalyptic theory.

The report said Fittkau-Garthe had attracted members to her group from Germany through talks and seminars and that her aim was to control the lives, personalities and possessions of its members.

Inquiries "hampered"

On Friday, a police spokesman in Tenerife said the investigation had been hampered as Fittkau-Garthe's followers were not very forthcoming with information.

The followers, all Germans barring one who is Spanish, were not arrested.

Police were reported to be still analysing a liquid alleged to be the poison that the group planned to use to commit suicide.

If tried and convicted Fittkau-Garthe could face up to eight years in jail.

News reports said Fittkau-Garthe charged members of the cult up to 50,000 pesetas ($350) to attend her psychological-religious sessions.

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