US, Guatemalan forces raid extremist haredi Lev Tahor cult compound

The sect has been accused of forcing girls as young as 12 years old into marriages with much older men within the sect.

Jerusalem Post/July 7, 2021

By Idan Zonshine

n a joint operation with the FBI, local Guatemalan police raided the compound of the extremist ultra-Orthodox (haredi) cult, Lev Tahor, arresting at least two top officials in the cult, Israeli and Jewish media reported on Tuesday evening.

According to multiple sources, the arrested cult-members in question are Yoel and Shmuel Weingarten, who reportedly have arrest warrants against them in the US for kidnapping and child abuse.

US and Guatemalan forces have performed several raids on the cult's leaders and members in recent years, mainly for kidnapping and child abuse charges, arresting their leader Yaakov Weinstein last March. In 2019, four members were indicted for kidnapping two children whose mother had taken them, wanting to return the children to Lev Tahor.

According to local reports, the operation began last week when an FBI agent, along with two National Civil Police (PNC) agents infiltrated the compound on a farm - located in the village of El Amatillo, in Oratorio, Santa Rosa - while posing as people carrying humanitarian aid.

The subsequent raid included 100 police officers and 40 police cars, since authorities feared that cult members would riot in order to allow the suspects to escape, Israel Hayom reported.

A spokesman for the cult told local media that the raid was illegal and that the detainees were Guatemalan citizens. "The FBI has no authority to operate in this country," the senior official, whose name was not mentioned, said.

The sect has been accused of forcing girls as young as 12 years old into marriages with much older men within the sect.

Founded in New York in the late 80's, Lev Tahor settled in Canada in 2003. The group's founder Slomo Helbrans was convicted for kidnapping a child he was tutoring in the early 90's in New York, but released after only two years in prison.

After being deported to Israel in 2000, Helbrans took his movement to Canada in 2003 where the cult remained for 10 years before rousing the interest of Canadian authorities, after which they collectively fled to Guatemala.

Shlomo Helbrans drowned in Mexico in 2017, leaving control of the group in the hands of his son Nachman and some associates who are believed to be even more extremist.

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