LONDON, APRIL 20 -- When cult leader David Koresh crossed the Atlantic to look for recruits nearly five years ago, he found fertile ground among Seventh-Day Adventists in heartland cities like Nottingham and Manchester. Despite the pleading of friends and family, new devotees abandoned their lives to follow the self-styled messiah.

"Koresh was an evil impostor," James McNeil, a Nottingham church elder, told local news services today. "We knew it would all end in tragedy."

British officials said at least 24 Britons were believed to be among the estimated 86 people who died Monday when Koresh's compound near Waco, Tex., burned to the ground. Included, authorities believe, were up to six members of a Nottingham congregation and six members of one Manchester-area family.

Two Britons -- Derek Lovelock, 37, and Renos Avraam, 29 -- were among the nine members of the Branch Davidian sect who escaped the inferno. They are now in custody in Texas. U.S. officials say that Koresh and his followers started the fire as an act of mass suicide, following an attempt by authorities to use armored vehicles and tear gas to end a 51-day siege at the compound.

Given the heavy British involvement, reaction here to Monday's deadly events in Waco has been sharp. There have been calls for new legislation regarding cults, along with criticism of the way the FBI handled the attempt to make Koresh and his group surrender.

The tragedy was discussed on the floor of the House of Commons, where Prime Minister John Major rejected the idea of a new anti-cult law to protect British citizens from recruitment by groups such as the Branch Davidians.

"{It} would be difficult to focus legislation to restrict the establishment of those cults," Major said.

Cult leader Koresh, born Vernon Howell, belonged to the Seventh-Day Adventist Church before being expelled more than a decade ago. The Adventist Church, which runs Newbold College near the Berkshire town of Bracknell, is said to be one of the fastest-growing churches in Britain.

Koresh arrived in Bracknell in 1988 to search for new followers. Denied permission to hold Bible classes at the college, he installed himself in a nearby house where students were invited to hear his marathon stemwinders.

He also preached in Manchester, Nottingham and London. British followers were "mesmerized by the cult leadership of Vernon Howell, who has no link with our church other than he has tried on his visit to this country to prey on the unsuspecting," the Rev. Cecil Perry, British Isles pastor of the Seventh-Day Adventists, said last month.

Samuel Henry, who lives near Manchester, is believed to have lost his wife and five grown children in the Waco blaze. "I am never going to see my family alive; they are all dead in that building," Henry told reporters Monday night as he watched television images of the flames.

The Rev. Frederick Mapp, pastor of the Adventist church that the Henrys attended, told the Daily Telegraph Monday that Henry's 28-year-old daughter, Diana, was the first of the family to join the Branch Davidians. According to Mapp, Diana Henry was converted by her boyfriend, who had become a Koresh disciple after hearing him speak at the Adventist college in Bracknell.

Then Samuel Henry's other daughters, Pauline, 24, and Vanessa, 19, joined the Koresh cult, along with his sons, Stephen, 26, and Phillip, 22. Finally, Henry's wife Zilla, 55, also joined the cult. Last year they all went to live on the Waco compound.

Winston Nobrega, whose estranged wife, Teresa, is thought to have died in the Waco fire, said Koresh was a seductive preacher. "Initially, they thought he was preaching about Seventh-Day Adventism, but then he started to elaborate and got farther and farther away from it," Nobrega told reporters. "He says he has seen God, and God has given him the gift."

Nobrega's daughter, Natalie, 11, was released from the Waco compound early in the siege.

Relatives of the victims joined commentators today in questioning the FBI's decision to bring the siege to an end. After an initial shootout with federal officers on Feb. 28, the scene had remained essentially calm until Monday morning, when authorities bashed holes in the buildings with armored vehicles and pumped tear gas inside.

Psychologist Ian McKenzie told the BBC that he thought officials should have waited longer before acting. "They had been waiting 51 days, but they should have waited 151 days or 251 days," he said. "Wait until their food runs out. Wait until you've got something to bargain with."

European newspapers also raised questions about Monday's events. The Times of London, according to the Associated Press, said the investigation into the FBI's actions will raise "broader questions of national competence." The Netherlands' De Telegraaf questioned whether Koresh's threat that tragedy would result if the compound was attacked had been taken seriously by U.S. authorities.