Many children and teenagers held in a Jewish cult area in a forest in Mexico were rescued during a police raid.
According to the information obtained by the BBC, the Lev Tahor group, known as a radical and closed sect, was targeted in the raid. The group was under investigation for kidnapping and forcibly abducting children.
The children and teenagers rescued in Mexico were taken to Israel and handed over to their relatives.
The Lev Tahor (Clean Heart) sect is known for its extremist activities and harsh practices against its members.
This group, which encourages marriage at a young age, imposes harsh penalties when even small children violate strict rules, and obliges women and all girls from the age of 3 to cover their bodies, is also called the “Jewish Taliban” because of these strict practices.
Completing their investigation, Mexican police reached the wooded area about 20 kilometers from the city of Tapachula in northern Chiapas state on Friday morning.
A source linked to the operation said the boys and girls in the confined space were quickly separated from the adults in the group, fearing that adults could take life-threatening steps to stay with the children.
Mexican police worked with a team of four volunteers from Israel. This team also included former Mossad agents who helped to plan and run the operation.
The police and their former Israeli agents began working on the operation two years ago, when the family of a cult member went to a former Mossad agent and asked for help.
Working on the cult, the team traveled frequently between Guatemala and Israel to study the cult, which has been in Guatemala since 2014. Working with local authorities, local police and a private detective from Guatemala, the team found that between 40-50 members of the cult had illegally crossed into Mexico in January this year. Here, the cult members who settled in the forests around Tapachula were followed.
The sect’s leaders in Guatemala have been at the center of kidnappings since 2018. A woman who fled the cult on a trip to New York with her two children was caught in the city in 2018 and forcibly taken back.
The woman and her children were found three weeks later in Mexico.
Nine cult members were put on trial for this incident. Four people, including the sect’s founder’s son and current leader, Nachman Helbrans, were sentenced to prison. One received a light sentence and was released on account of his time in custody. While one’s trial is expected to conclude in November, the two are still awaiting their trial. One person is in custody in Guatemala.
What is Lev Tahor?
Lev Tahor was founded in Israel in 1988 by Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans. Helbrans moved to the United States after a while and was convicted of human trafficking in 1994 and served two years in prison. He died in Mexico in 2017.
Lev Tahor, whose number of members increased to 350 in time, started to change places after being followed by local authorities in every country they visited in recent years and being investigated with serious accusations.
It is known that about 80 of the members of the sect, which are currently divided between Israel, the USA, North Macedonia, Morocco, Mexico and Guatemala, are in Guatemala.
Although the group is often described as ultra-Orthodox in the sense that it strictly enforces the old rules, it actually implements its own strict new rules and is described as a “dangerous sect” by the Israeli court that handled the case against the group.
Their leaders, on the other hand, deny that they violated the laws in the countries they visit, claiming that they are “targeted for their beliefs”.