TARGET: Jerusalem

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LISA BEYER JerusalemLike no other place on earth, Jerusalem is ground zero for the apocalypse. The city is the center of biblical prophecy and esoteric lore, with the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount, the site of Solomon's Temple, as possible touchdown sites for the Lord. That is almost certainly why the followers of Colorado cult leader Monte Kim Miller were in Israel--and why Israel, increasingly wary as the millennium approaches, ordered the expulsion of as many of them as it could find last week. Miller, who had disappeared with more than 80 of his Denver-based Concerned Christians last September, has cast himself as one of the prophets prefigured by the 11th chapter of Revelation--one who would be killed on the streets of Jerusalem and then, Christ-like, be raised from the dead three days later. Prepare to follow me and die, Miller exhorted his followers before the mass disappearance.Warned by the FBI, Israel spotted the first arrivals from Denver a few months ago. In contrast to the messianic Christians who wander around in biblical robes and hang around Jerusalem's Old City, the cultists were well-dressed, clean-cut individuals who easily passed for tourists. But an Israeli security official contends that the Concerned Christians were preparing for a big provocation on the Temple Mount aimed at instigating a war between Arabs and Jews that would culminate in Armageddon. Deciding not to wait for the end of the world, the Israelis raided two houses where 14 cult members lived, taking in three men for investigation of conspiracy to commit a crime and to bomb holy places. Though they asked to go to Greece to join their fellow believers, all 14 Concerned Christians were deported to Denver on Saturday. Some cult members indicated last week that Miller was in London. Says Colorado-based cult watcher Hal Mansfield: He can run them by phone from anywhere. Miller considers himself the Trinity and has set himself against black helicopters, the new world order and the Y2K bug.The next war can come not from our borders but from here in Jerusalem, from the Temple Mount, says an Israeli security official. Both the Mossad and the Shinbet, the country's external and internal spy agencies, have become involved in monitoring and managing threats posed by the millennium. Says a source familiar with Israeli security issues: It must be your first assumption that these people are not logical or reasonable. They can do almost anything at any time. For instance, he says, Dec. 31, 1999, is not necessarily D-day. It could happen in February 2000 or in June 1999.The authorities have their eyes not only on Miller and his cult but on another U.S. group consisting of about a dozen people living in monasteries in the mountains around Jerusalem, mostly in the West Bank. Less organized than the Denver cult, the group expects its leader to give the members instruction involving the Temple Mount. Each of them, says an Israeli official, expects to play a major role in the end-day events. Says the official: Everybody is feeling he is the chosen man for the mission. Members have assigned portfolios: one is in charge of justice in the world to come; another is in charge of tranquillity.Still, says a security source, the most dangerous group so far is the Denver cult. Israeli authorities are afraid that undetected members may go underground. Last week the Concerned Christians were described by their lawyer as being nice people who, like other pious foreigners, were simply awaiting the return of Jesus. And, oh yes, they expect the U.S. to be destroyed by the end of the year.With reporting by Richard Woodbury/Denver