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Unification church member sets self on fire, injures others

By Paula Hancocks, CNN
updated 1:39 PM EDT, Thu August 22, 2013
Newly-weds at the Unification Church's mass wedding held at in Gapyeong, east of Seoul, on February 17, 2013.
Newly-weds at the Unification Church's mass wedding held at in Gapyeong, east of Seoul, on February 17, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A fire official says three people were burned
  • The incident comes just before the anniversary of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's death
  • The Unification Church's headquarters are in Seoul

(CNN) -- A follower of the Unification Church set fire to herself and two others in South Korea Thursday, the local fire service said.

Spokesman Song Sam-soo says the Japanese woman poured paint thinner on herself and a man, and another woman standing nearby was also injured.

The man and woman suffered third-degree burns, while the bystander had second-degree burns, Song said.

However, Steve Sakuwa from the Unification Church rejected the official account, saying, "self-immolation is incorrect." Sakuwa says the woman has a mental illness and was attempting to throw the liquid at a male pastor but accidentally doused herself as well.

The incident took place in a village in Gapyeong, east of Seoul, where the church's global headquarters is based. More than 25,000 followers are expected to convene here Friday for the one-year anniversary of the death of church founder, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. It is one year by the lunar calendar.

A self-declared messiah, Moon was a controversial figure. He founded the Unification Church in 1954 after the Korean War and was well known for officiating mass weddings. Critics accuse the church of being a cult.

Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon dead at 92

CNN's Paula Hancocks reported from Tokyo, with journalist Soo Bin Park contributing to this report from Seoul.

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