Five leaders of ultra-Orthodox Lev Tahor sect arrested in Mexico
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Five leaders of ultra-Orthodox Lev Tahor sect arrested in Mexico

Joint operation between Interpol and FBI comes as police in New York are still searching for two children of mother who fled cult

Members of an Orthodox Jewish community put a label from the 'International Rescue Committee for Jewish Families of the Lev Tahor Settlement' on the window of a bus in Guatemala city on September 25, 2016.  (AFP PHOTO / JOHAN ORDONEZ)
Members of an Orthodox Jewish community put a label from the 'International Rescue Committee for Jewish Families of the Lev Tahor Settlement' on the window of a bus in Guatemala city on September 25, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JOHAN ORDONEZ)

JTA — Five leaders of Lev Tahor, a fringe Haredi Orthodox sect, were arrested in Mexico.

Their arrest was a joint operation between Interpol and the FBI, Yeshiva World News reported on Wednesday. The group has faced allegations of kidnapping, sexual abuse and child abuse.

Among those arrested are Nachman Helbrans, the son of former sect leader Shlomo Helbrans, who drowned in Mexico in 2017. Nachman Helbrans, who now leads Lev Tahor, is reported to be even more radical and aggressive than his father, according to YWN.

The group was accused last week of kidnapping two children, who the New York Post on Wednesday reported were the children of the founder’s daughter, Sara Helbrans. The children were attending a therapeutic event with other escapees from the sect.

Sara Helbrans fled the sect on October 5 with three of her six children. The three others were discovered and returned to her 10 days later, and her husband detained.

On Saturday, December 8, her two teenage children, Yante and Chaim, who remain loyal to the sect, disappeared from the event in the Catskills.

Yante Teller (left) and Chaim Teller. (New York State Police)

Helbrans had earlier filed suit in Brooklyn Family Court seeking custody of her children and protection from her husband.

“I am very imminently afraid from the cult and what the [children’s] father and other cult members may do now that we are no longer under their power and manipulation,” she wrote in the filing to the court, according to the New York Post.

According to the Post, a leader of the group traveled to Brooklyn and filed a counterclaim on behalf of Yante seeking emancipation from her mother and alleging abuse.

Members of the Lev Tahor sect leave Guatemalan city San Juan La Laguna after being forced out in August 2014. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Lev Tahor, which has about 230 members, relocated to Guatemala from Canada in 2014 following allegations of mistreatment of its children including abuse and child marriages.

It moved in 2016 from the outskirts of Guatemala City to Oratorio, a village 30 miles east of Guatemala City, after religious disputes with its neighbors, and reportedly crossed the border from Guatemala to Mexico in June 2017. It may have returned later to Guatemala.

Arranged marriages between teenagers and older cult members are reported to be common. The group shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. It also rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish nation can only be restored by God, not humankind.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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