The leader of the armed religious sect holding federal agents at bay no longer says he's Jesus Christ and says his followers fired on authorities in self-defense, the FBI said Friday.

David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian sect, also has expressed remorse for the shootout last Sunday that led to the deaths of four federal agents and a reported 10 cult members, authorities said."But there is also very much a tendency to justify what did occur by saying that, in fact, it was an attack on his residence and that he was responding with like force," FBI agent Bob Ricks said Friday.

In another development, a federal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said federal agents raided the compound after receiving a tip from the State Department that the group was con-tem-plat-ing mass suicide.

The shooting erupted when the agents of the Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrived with warrants to search the compound and arrest Koresh.

Branch Davidian cult member Paul Fatta, who was away when the shootout occurred and has not been allowed to return, told The New York Times the sect is a peaceful and diverse group.

"We're ordinary people," Fatta told the paper. "The only thing that brought us together was the Book."

But he acknowledged the cult has a 10-foot by 10-foot room filled with weapons, which Fatta said arefor self-protection after rivalry between Koresh and a former leader six years ago ended with a gun-fight. "I don't like guns personally," said Fatta, who acknowledged he was in Austin, about 100 miles south of Waco, trying to sell guns when the shootout happened.

Though Koresh has previously called himself Christ, Ricks said the cult leader now resents the comparison. "He describes himself as a prophet," Ricks said.

There had been speculation that Koresh might kill himself on a Friday, the same day of the week the Bible says Christ died. But Ricks said authorities asked Koresh directly if he planned to take his life and he denied it.

In the meantime, Koresh freed a 21st child from the heavily armed compound Friday. That brought to 23 the number of people who have left.

Koresh has told authorities 47 men, 43 women and 17 children remain at the compound, and there was no word on when they might leave.

Branch Davidians broke from the Adventist church in the mid-1930s. Church spokeswoman Shirley Burton said she began keeping a file on the group after parents of some cult members expressed concerns to the church last Easter that Koresh had called for a mass suicide at the compound.

The State Department had relayed information from Australians connected with the sect that Koresh was contemplating a mass suicide in the compound, according to the ATF official who spoke on condition of anonymity.