Leader of extreme Jewish sect arrested in southern Mexico

September 27, 2022 GMT

TAPACHULA, Mexico (AP) — Mexican authorities arrested a leader of an extremist ultra-orthodox Jewish sect in southern Mexico accused of organized crime and human trafficking, state and federal officials said Tuesday.

Officials also said an unspecified number of women and children were removed from the Lev Tahor group’s compound.

The organized crime office of the Attorney General’s Office led the weekend operation in the municipality of Tapachula near Mexico’s border with Guatemala, said a federal official who insisted on speaking anonymously because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

A state law enforcement official, who also was not authorized to speak publicly about the case, identified the arrested leader as Menachem Endel Alter of Jerusalem.

On Tuesday, Moshe Alter, Endel Alter’s brother, delivered food to about two dozen women and children held at a government shelter. He said authorities had also taken away a 3-month-old baby whose mother was now in the shelter. He said he did not know where the baby was taken.

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At the shelter gate, girls and young women wearing long, flowing white hooded robes shouted at officials and banged on the perimeter wall to protest the detentions.

“They are illegally detained,” said Nissan Malka, one of the protesters.

Moshe Alter said another man from the community was also arrested over the weekend, but authorities did not confirm the second arrest. Members of the community identified him as Moshe Joseph Rosner.

Moshe Alter said the trouble stems from what he called a political-religious conflict with former members of Lev Tahor who are trying to dismantle it.

Lev Tahor has had legal problems elsewhere.

Last November, two leaders of the group were convicted of kidnapping and child sexual exploitation crimes in New York. They allgedly kidnapped two children from their mother to return a 14-year-old girl to an illegal sexual relationship with an adult male.

The sect is known to have members in Canada, the United States, Mexico, Guatemala and Israel.

The events played out over the Jewish new year Rosh Hashanah, which concludes Tuesday at sundown.