Malaysian sect prepared for Mayan 'doomsday'

Kuala Lumpur — A Malaysian Islamic sect that stockpiled a huge cache of swords, gunpowder and other weaponry was preparing for last month's much-hyped Mayan apocalypse prophecy that never came true, police said Friday.

The 46-year-old leader of the sect, which called itself "Sky Banner", was arrested Saturday in the southern state Malacca, and a police raid at his home turned up an array of weapons and survival gear.

State police, who have not yet named the leader, said the group appeared to be preparing for the chaos of a post-apocalyptic world.

"There is nothing to suggest any links with militant groups or a planned attack. I think the weapons were for protection or hunting," Malacca police chief Chuah Ghee Lye said.

"They were preparing for the Mayan doomsday. It was a survivalist thing. Members were convinced the leader had supernatural powers and could even speak to the devil."

He said police had found dozens of swords and knives, bows and arrows, pellet guns, fuel, food and medical supplies, as well as camouflage clothing and explosives.

He added that charges of possession of weapons and explosives could be forthcoming.

The group likely had 30 to 40 followers, Chuah said, adding that some had defected after the supposed December 21 doomsday date passed uneventfully. He declined to comment on whether any defectors had aided investigators.

Police began investigating the group about a year ago, after state Islamic authorities informed them of the sect's "deviant" activities.

Malaysian media earlier quoted a local villager near the sect leader's home as saying followers believed the "holy weapons" would fly through the air at the leader's direction to "fight the enemies of mankind".

Authorities in Malaysia keep a wary eye out for religious radicalism and have over the years broken up a number of Islamic sects labelled as deviant.

More than 60 percent of the multi-ethnic country's population of 28 million people are Muslim ethnic Malays.