Members of an Adelaide doomsday cult were preparing to move overseas and planned to take with them a stockpile of explosives, guns and ammunition, police say.
Police raided 12 properties in and around Adelaide on Wednesday and Thursday, including the headquarters of the Agape Ministries, a group whose leader preaches that the world will end in 2012.
The raids involved 90 officers and netted 15 weapons, slow-burning fuses, detonators, extendable batons and 35,000 rounds of ammunition, some of it high-powered.
Much of the cache of weapons and explosives was found in shipping containers, confirming to police the cult was headed overseas, possibly to a south Pacific island.
The religious cult had hundreds of members at one stage but its number of followers has dwindled to about 40 to 60.
Two men, aged 46 and 49, were arrested and charged with firearms offences, while two others, aged 38 and 48, could face similar offences.
But, Superintendent Jim Jeffery said the leader of the Agape Ministries, a man identified in media reports as Rocco Leo, was still missing along with his two main offsiders.
He said investigations suggested the trio had collected a significant amount of money from followers ahead of the group’s exit from Australia, although he declined to confirm reports it was up to $6 million.
“It is believed the Ministry was making arrangements to relocate offshore and that the ministry had built up significant funds through the pledges provided by followers,” Superintendent Jeffery said.
“We don’t know the reason for the stockpile of weapons or why they have been secreting ammunition in those containers.
“We’ve been talking to members of the congregation and past members of the congregation.”
Superintendent Jeffery said there was evidence of high-powered weapons being fired at one of the properties searched at Mt Magnificent, south of Adelaide, although the weapons involved had not yet been found.
He said police inquiries would now focus on the group’s financial dealings.
“Our understanding is that people have given a substantial amount of money to, basically, relocate offshore, to go and live with their church members,” Superintendent Jeffery.
“At this point in time, we haven’t discovered anything out of the ordinary with that, but we are very keen to hear from anyone who has got concerns about how their money has been used.”
He said there was nothing to suggest the leaders of Agape Ministries posed a threat to the community.
The two men arrested have been granted police bail to appear in court in June.