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Cult leader who claims to be Jesus arrested in Russia

The Russian leader of an influential religious sect who claims to be Jesus has been arrested in the depths of Siberia, police say.

Sergei Torop, who is known to his followers as ‘Vissarion’, was arrested alongside two of his aides.     

Russia's Investigations Committee alleges the group caused emotional and physical harm to their followers and extorted money. 

The three men stand accused of “establishing a religious association whose activities involve violence against individuals and of inflicting grievous bodily harm to two or more people,” a spokesperson for the committee said, according to state media.

The 59-year-old cult leader was detained by security forces following a special operation on Tuesday that saw helicopters and armed officers surround the sect’s communes in a remote region of Siberia.

The men could face up to 12 years in prison if found guilty, according to the RIA news agency.

Mr Torop founded the Church of the Last Testament in Siberia's Krasnoyarsk region following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He claims to have been ‘reborn’ in 1990 as a reincarnation of Jesus Christ.

The former traffic police officer has amassed thousands of followers, some of whom are said to believe him to be a returned Christ.

The sect’s followers established a settlement called the City of the Sun, in Kuraga region of Siberia in 1995. Hundreds of other believers reside in other settlements in the region.

Followers of the sect – known as Vissarionites – are not allowed to smoke, drink or use money, and are expected to live frugally. They also abstain from consuming meat, coffee, tea, sugar and other products.

Mr Torop’s religious beliefs combine elements of the Russian Orthodox Church with preparations for the apocalypse. According to local media, Mr Torop once claimed that Jesus was watching over his disciples from an orbit close to Earth and that the Virgin Mary was running Russia.

The Church of the Last Testament has international reach – in 2000, the Russian ministry of justice said the sect had some 10,000 followers around the world.

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