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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Lev Tahor members stopped from entering Mexico, on route to Iran

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Members of the Lev Tahor ultra-Orthodox 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, number 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 ultra-Orthodox news site B’Hadrei Haredim, the cult’s members are attempting to fly to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and from there travel to neighboring Iran, in order to more freely conduct their affairs without state interference. 

In July this year, 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 B’Hadrei 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. 

Members of Lev Tahor in Guatemala (credit: JORGE LOPEZ)

Last week, cult members sought to embark on flights from Guatemala City but were prevented by security officials there. 

The Israeli Foreign Ministry is reportedly working to thwart the arrival of the cult in Iran, following concerns from family members in Israel that they could be used by the Islamic Republic as bargaining chips in its conflict with Israel, Ynet has reported. 

B’Hadrei Haredim reported last week that three Lev Tahor leaders are already in Kurdistan awaiting the arrival of other members. 

Yoel Levi, a former member of the cult who escaped in 2018, told Kan Radio on Monday that the group is seeking to move to Iran to be able to conduct their extremist practices more freely than they are able in Guatemala. 

Reports have been made of forced child marriages and various forms of psychological and physical abuse by the cult leaders against its members. 

The group’s founder Shlomo Helbrand was convicted on kidnapping offenses, and one of its current leaders Yaakov Weinstein was arrested by Guatemalan authorities in March this year on suspicion of kidnapping children. 

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