After a week of covert investigation, at least two top officials of the extremist ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) cult, Lev Tahor, were arrested in a joint operation by the FBI and the local police in Guatemala, Israeli and Jewish media reported Tuesday.

Ultra-Orthodox Community

The Guatemalan police, together with the United States Forces, raided the compound of Lev Tahor, arresting the cult leaders.

According to The Jerusalem Post, multiple sources confirmed that the local authorities in Guatemala and FBI arrested cult members in question, Yoel and Shmuel Weingarten, who reportedly have arrest warrants in the U.S. for kidnapping and child abuse. The suspects were identified in the report by local Guatemalan media.

In addition, sources who have escaped from the cult described the two as the "brains" of Lev Tahor based on the Kikar Hashabbat website, the Hebrew-language Israeli news website directed toward the Haredi audience, Times of Israel reported.

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In recent years, the U.S. and Guatemalan forces have performed several raids on the cult's leaders and members. The reason behind numerous operations was the kidnapping and child abuse charges committed by the cult.

In March, cult leader Yaakov Weinstein was arrested. In 2019, four members were indicted for the kidnapping of two children. Their mother had taken the children, wanting to return them to Lev Tahor. One of the minors was married to one of the defendants, Jacob Rosner.

Based on local reports, the operation started last week when an FBI agent, along with two PNC or National Civil Police agents, infiltrated the compound of the cult on a farm. The said compound was located in the village of El Amatillo, in Oratorio, Santa Rosa.

The raid included 100 police officers and 40 police cars. The authorities deployed the large troop out of fears that the cult members would riot to open an escape route for the suspects.

Meanwhile, the cult's spokesman shared to the local media that the raid was illegal and that the detainees were Guatemalan citizens. The senior official whose name was not mentioned stated that the FBI has no authority to operate in Guatemala.

Kikar Hashabbat stated that there were also unconfirmed reports of an exchange of gunfire between members of the cult and law enforcement.

The cult has been accused of forcing girls as young as 12 years old into marriages with much older men within the sect. The cult was founded in New York in the late '80s, Lev Tahor, and later on, settled in Canada in 2003. 

The group's founder Slomo Helbrans was convicted for kidnapping a child that he was tutoring in the early '90s in New York but was released after only two years of imprisonment.

After being deported to Israel in 2000, the group's founder took his movement to Canada in 2003. The cult had remained for ten years before alarming Canadian authorities. After the heated situation in Canada, they collectively fled to Guatemala.

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

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Written by Jess Smith

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