MEXICO: A police raid Jewish sect jungle complex in Mexico resulted in the removal of children and older teenagers. The Lev Tahor gang, which was under investigation for possibly trafficking kids, was the target of the action.
Two members of Lev Tahor were arrested on suspicion of human trafficking and serious sexual offences, including rape, Israel’s foreign ministry said.
On Friday morning, police reached the compound 11 miles (17.5 km) north of Tapachula in Chiapas state.
A federal judge ordered them to arrest several leaders suspected of child abuse and rescue cult members following an investigation by the Attorney General’s Special Organized Crime Prosecutor (Femdo).
Twenty-six members were found at the compound, among them Israelis with dual citizenships including Canada, the US and Guatemala, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.
It said a Canadian and an Israeli citizen had been arrested, while two other wanted members had reportedly left the compound two days before the raid and were being sought. Another five were detained for alleged immigration violations.
The remaining members are being housed in a Mexican Ministry of Social Welfare facility until a decision is made on what will happen to them, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.
The kids and teenagers are being transported by air to Israel, where they have extended families. Lev Tahor, also known as Hebrew for Pure Heart, is notorious for its extreme methods and for enforcing a rigid code of conduct on its followers.
It promotes child marriage, imposes severe penalties for even small infractions, and mandates that women and girls, even those as young as three years old, entirely cover themselves in robes.
Because of apparent parallels between the tight dress code enforced by the Sunni Muslim extremist group that rules Afghanistan and the Jewish Taliban, the group has acquired the moniker “Jewish Taliban.”
According to a source with knowledge of the operation, the boys and girls were soon separated from the rest of the group out of concern for their safety as some members attempted to stop them from being taken out.
The operation was planned and carried out in collaboration with the Mexican police and a volunteer Israeli squad of four men, which included ex-Mossad agents. About two years ago, one of the former agents was approached for assistance by a relative of several of those in the group who was living in Israel.
The team conducted surveillance activities while travelling between Israel and Guatemala, where the branch had resided since 2014, collaborating with local authorities, law enforcement, and a Guatemalan private investigator.
A group of 40 to 50 people entered Mexico illegally in January and settled in the bush north of Tapachula, where they were still being pursued.
Since 2018, when two children who had been abducted by their mother and taken to New York by her departed the community, the leadership in Guatemala has been at the centre of a kidnapping case. Three weeks later, in Mexico, they were located.
In connection with the case, nine members of the sect were charged. One was convicted but was released due to time already served, and another is scheduled to be sentenced in November. Four people, including the founder’s son and current leader, Nachman Helbrans, are currently in jail. One is being held in Guatemalan custody while the other two wait for their trials.
About Lev Tahor
In 1988, Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, who later immigrated to the US, founded Lev Tahor in Israel. He perished in Mexico in 2017 after serving two years in prison following his 1994 kidnapping conviction.
Lev Tahor, a group with up to 350 members, has recently been forced to relocate after drawing the attention of local authorities. Israel, the US, Macedonia, Morocco, Mexico, and Guatemala are currently affected, as well as Israel. There are still 70 to 80 members in Guatemala.
Despite the group’s reputation as being ultra-Orthodox, an Israeli court has labelled it a “dangerous cult” and it adheres to its own set of laws.
They claim the group is being targeted due to its beliefs but deny breaking any local laws.