FBI agents arrested 14 present and former members of a Miami-based black cult yesterday on racketeering charges stemming from a series of brutal killings, attempted killings and incidents of arson and extortion in south Florida over a five-year period.

They were named in a three-count indictment that described the cult, the Nation of Yahwehs, as including an ultra-secret group called "the Brotherhood." Members could be admitted into the Brotherhood, the indictment said, only after killing a "white devil" and bringing a severed body part to the cult's leader as proof.

The self-described "spiritual leader" of the group, Hulon Mitchell Jr., 55, also known as Yahweh Ben Yahweh and Moses Israel, was picked up at 3:45 a.m. in downtown New Orleans where he had a speaking engagement. Authorities said Mitchell operated out of "the Temple of Love," a heavily guarded compound in northwest Miami where he has run the cult since 1979. He faces a maximum prison term of 60 years for allegedly directing all the illegal acts, including 14 homicides. One dissident Yahweh was decapitated.

The cult, also known as the Black Hebrew Israelites of Miami, has about 2,000 members, most in the Miami area, officials said. FBI Director William S. Sessions said the group had "terrorized the Miami community." Seven suspects were arrested in Miami. Mitchell's second in command, Linda Gaines, 43, also known as Judith Israel, was apprehended in Atlanta. Three others were taken into custody in Lafayette, La., one was arrested in Durham, N.C., and one other in Washington. Three other persons named in the indictment are being sought.

In Miami, Mitchell's lawyer, Ellis Rubin, told reporters the charges are based on testimony by a former sect member who confessed to four murders, Reuter news agency reported. "In exchange for a 22-year sentence, he {the witness} promised the FBI he could bring in Yahweh Ben Yahweh," Rubin was quoted as saying.

The arrests came after a four-year investigation by the FBI and police in Miami, Dade County and Delray Beach, Fla. FBI agent in charge William A. Gavin of Miami said the probe followed allegations of Mitchell's involvement in "a pattern of terrorism" with some of his followers.

The indictment said the illegal acts were committed between 1981 and 1986. U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen said that some of the crimes involved murders of cult members who dissented from Mitchell's leadership or rules and that other acts were retaliation against individuals who interfered with cult efforts to collect donations, sell Yahweh products or acquire property. Another motive, he said, involved random killings as "a rite of initiation" into the Brotherhood. One suspect, Ardmore Canton III, was accused of killing a drifter in a vacant Miami building in May 1986 and bringing one of the victim's ears to Mitchell. Canton, 28, was at large.

The decapitation took place in November 1981. The indictment said a Yahweh member, Aston Green, was seized at the Yahweh temple, beaten and taken alive to western Dade where his head was cut off.