Members of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Lev Tahor cult have been prevented by Mexican authorities from traveling to Iran and have been returned to Guatemala, where they have resided since 2014, Mexican media reported.
The cult, numbering around 300 individuals, the majority of whom are Israeli, has made several attempts to reach Iran, first in 2018 and most recently last week.
According to the haredi news site Behaderey Haredim, the cult’s members are attempting to fly to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and continue to neighboring Iran, hoping to more freely conduct their affairs without state interference.
In July, the FBI and Guatemalan police raided Lev Tahor’s compound and arrested at least two top leaders, Yoel and Shmuel Weingarten, who reportedly have arrest warrants against them in the US for kidnapping and child abuse.
Video footage obtained by Behaderey Haredim from Mexican media this week showed two buses filled with women and children members of the cult about to be sent back to Guatemala.
Last week, cult members sought to embark on flights from Guatemala City but were prevented by security officials.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry is reportedly working to thwart the arrival of the cult in Iran over concern by family members in Israel that they could be used by the Islamic Republic as bargaining chips in its conflict with Israel, Ynet has reported.
Three Lev Tahor leaders are already in Kurdistan awaiting the arrival of other members, Behaderey Haredim reported last week.
The group is seeking to move to Iran to be able to conduct their extremist practices more freely than they are able to do in Guatemala, Yoel Levi, a former member of the cult who escaped in 2018, told KAN Radio on Monday.
There have been reports of forced child marriages and various forms of psychological and physical abuse by the cult leaders against its members.
The group’s founder, Shlomo Helbrans, was convicted on kidnapping offenses before his drowning death in 2017, and one of its current leaders, Yaakov Weinstein, was arrested by Guatemalan authorities in March on suspicion of kidnapping children.