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Extremist ‘Jewish Taliban’ Lev Tahor compound raided in Mexico

Mexican police arrest members of the group, often described as a cult and dubbed the ‘Jewish Taliban’ in international media, on suspicion of human trafficking and grave sex crimes

This article originally appeared on Haaretz, and was reprinted here with permission. Sign up here to get Haaretz’s free Daily Brief newsletter delivered to your inbox.

Mexican police raided the compound of the extremist ultra-Orthodox Lev Tahor sect in the country last week, Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday. Two members of the sect, often described as a cult, were arrested on suspicions of human trafficking and sex crimes.

Police found 26 people in the Mexican compound on Friday, who are citizens of Israel, Canada, the United States, Guatemala and other countries. Five more members of the sect were arrested for staying in Mexico illegally. The rest were transferred to a Mexican Welfare Ministry site.

The two members of the sect who were arrested on suspicion of human trafficking and grave sexual offenses – Menachem Mendel Alter, an Israeli citizen, and Yoel Rosner, a Canadian – are expected to be indicted in Mexico and sentenced to about 20 years in prison, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

Two other members are wanted by police, but left the compound two days before the raid, which was carried out after police collected evidence incriminating several of the sect’s members.

In addition to local SWAT teams and figures from the Mexican prosecution and welfare system, Yisrael Amir, an Israeli man who escaped from the sect several years ago, also participated in the raid. His sister, brother and 3-year-old son remained in the sect. His son was recovered in the compound, and was returned to Amir.

According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, local police are prepared to transfer the sect’s members who are being held in the Mexican welfare compound to the care of the country’s Israeli consul, but the members are refusing to leave the group. Because the consul instructed not to force them out, it was decided to keep them in the care of the local authorities for another few days.

The Foreign Ministry said that the Mexican request to deport the sect’s members to Israel will likely be accepted. Despite this, the ministry is opposed to forcibly deporting them from the country. “We will continue to focus for the time being on attempts to communicate with them about returning to Israel,” the ministry’s statement said.

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

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.

In 2021, U.S. Federal authorities filed child exploitation and child abduction charges against the sect’s leaders, who have been accused of forcing girls as young as 12 years old into marriages with much older men within the sect.

In a press release this April, the U.S. Justice Department said that young brides in the sect, often described as the “Jewish Taliban,” were expected “to have sex with their husbands, to tell people outside Lev Tahor that they were not married, to pretend to be older, and to deliver babies inside their homes instead of at a hospital, partially to conceal from the public the mothers’ young ages.”

That same year, members of the group appealed to the Iranian government to grant them political asylum. In its request, the anti-Zionist cult declared their loyalty and submission to the Supreme Leader and Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and asked for “asylum, protection and religious freedom of the families of its loyal members” as well as calling for “cooperation and help to counter Zionist dominance in order to peacefully liberate the Holy Land and the Jewish nation.”

Last October, hundreds of the group’s members reportedly tried to reach Iran, where they requested political asylum in 2019, but their relatives are afraid that Tehran may use the group, who hold Israeli and American citizenship, as bargaining chips. Early this year, its members were reported to have migrated to Bosnia.

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