Police in China have detained 18 suspected members of a banned religious cult, state news agency Xinhua said.
The group is notorious for some of its members beating a woman to death in a McDonald’s restaurant in 2014 after she refused to give them her phone number.
The Church of Almighty God cult was started in the 1990s and claims Jesus was resurrected as a woman in China. Chinese authorities frequently crack down on the cult, having arrested many of its members over the years.
As part of the current detention, police also confiscated computers and books used by the cult for recruitment. The Church of Almighty God refused to give a direct response to the BBC and referred to its US-based website which contains multiple alleged testimonies of believers tortured by Chinese authorities.
The cult’s core belief is that “Almighty God, Christ of the Last Days” has returned to earth as a Chinese woman to wreak the apocalypse. The only person who claims direct contact with this woman is a former physics teacher, Zhao Weishan, who founded the cult 25 years ago and has since fled to the United States.
The cult is also explicitly anti-communist, referring to China’s communist party as the “red dragon”. While many Christian sects find it hard to worship freely in China, the Church of Almighty God is accused of isolating members from friends and families and pressuring them to donate money in exchange for salvation.
The Chinese cult that kills ‘demons’
After the 2014 McDonald’s killing, several cult members were arrested and two later executed. They had attempted to recruit the 35-year-old victim in the restaurant in the town of Zhaoyuan in May 2014.
When she refused to give her phone number, the group believed that she was “possessed by an evil spirit”, the court statement from the conviction said.
The group then beat the woman with chairs and metal mop handles. She died at the scene from her injuries.
China’s crackdown on the cult predates the McDonald’s murder however. There were a string of arrests in 2012 in Qinghhai and Zhejiang where nearly 100 members were sentenced to prison, including several senior members.
In 2014, more were arrested in Hubei and Xinjiang. In August 2016 local police in Anhui detained 36 members accused of creating and spreading video content for the cult.