Guatemalan authorities on Tuesday raided the property of a strictly Orthodox Jewish sect after receiving reports that community leaders were severely abusing children, Israel Radio said.
One unconfirmed report said children were taken away from the compound, where more than 200 Lev Tahor members live in complete segregation from locals, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.
Another report said that Israeli officials were at the compound during the operation.
In a statement, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Israeli authorities were in direct contact with Guatemalan authorities regarding the case and were following developments closely.
“The Guatemalan authorities recently decided to investigate members of the community on suspicion that serious criminal offenses, including against minors, are being committed in the compound where they live,” the ministry said.
It added that most of the 200 Lev Tahor members were minors.
The community has been living in the central American country since March 2014.
Its refusal to take any part in the local community raised the ire of locals during its sojourn in the village of San Juan La Laguna, about 90 miles west of Guatemala City.
In 2014, the mayor of San Juan La Laguna tried to evict the controversial community after religious disputes, though he was later indicted for “participating in the expulsion of a religious community.”
The group did leave San Juan La Laguna and currently resides in the Ninth Zone of Guatemala City, where the raid took place.
Several probes have been conducted in the past into goings on within the closed community — dubbed “the Jewish Taliban” — with reports of violent behavior and under-age marriage.
Guatemalan law allowed marriage from the age of 14 when Lev Tahor moved to the country. It was raised to 18 in November.
The community is headed by Israeli Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, who left Israel in 1990. During the 1990s, he served two years in prison in the US for kidnapping a boy. Some time after, his community settled in Quebec and later Ontario. Some members then relocated to Guatemala.
In recent years, relatives of Lev Tahor disciples have reported on the use of violent control methods such as forcing young girls to marry older men, corporal punishment and use of psychiatric drugs, Haaretz said.
Lev Tahor shuns technology, its female members wear black robes from head to toe leaving only their faces exposed, and its leadership is virulently anti-Zionist.
Guatemala is home to some 1,200 Jews in a population of 15 million.