Israel issues international warrant against sect leader suspected of child abuse

Haaertz/April 11, 2008

The Jerusalem police on Friday issued an international arrest warrant against Elior Chen, a spiritual leader who is suspected of orchestrating the worst case of systematic child abuse in Israel's history.

At the beginning of this week, Haaretz reported that Chen had fled to Canada with one of his disciples after the arrest of a Jerusalem mother, apparently another of his disciples, on suspicion she severely abused her eight children at Chen's bidding. The mother was indicted for allegedly burning her toddlers, making them eat feces and locking them in a suitcase for days at a time, among other charges.

Chen was planning to meet other members of his spiritual sect in Canada, who had not yet been arrested, and the group was apparently planning to hide there together. One of Chen's friends, who was acquainted with other members of the group, told Haaretz that the entire group was headed for Canada, where one of the members' family lives.

The police hope that the arrest warrant will facilitate the extradition and apprehension of the fugitives.

During a search of Chen's home on Thursday, police found evidence that appears to link the spiritual leader to the abuse, including journals that document the violence.

The remand of the mother currently held in custody was extended Sunday until April 14.

Two of the mother's children, aged 4 and 5, were hospitalized in serious condition two weeks ago, after Chen allegedly ordered two of his followers to discipline the children by beating, burning, pushing and shaking them, and tying them up as a way of "correcting" their behavior.

The 4-year-old remains in a coma. Police suspect that Chen's supporters also doused the children in hot and cold water and broke their bones with hammers and blows.

Jerusalem police also arrested an additional suspect in the case, and have issued a gag order regarding his identity. The Magistrate's Court extended his remand by five days.

Chen and three of his supporters allegedly began providing the family with "educational lessons" several months ago. They allegedly kicked the father out of his home and began abusing several of the family's eight children, especially the two youngest.

Chen and his disciple, Yosef Fischer, left the country legally, and their exit was registered at border control. Afterward, their wives and children went into hiding. The Fisher apartment has been cleared out and its contents have been placed in storage.

Police said they do not know the location of Chen's and Fisher's families, but Chen's friend said they were hoping to go to Canada as well and may have already left the country.

Chen and his supporters chose Canada in part, the source said, because "the extradition law is tough" there. "Only in very exceptional cases does Canada extradite," he said.

Elior Chen's father, Yaakov Chen, told Haaretz he did not know where his son or his son's family were hiding. "I didn't see him, I don't know where he is," he said. "The last time I saw him was three weeks ago, after he had a girl. I went to his home in Upper Betar, gave him a present and that's it. I haven't seen him since. I'm sitting at home and eating my heart out."

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