Mexican authorities arrest leader of ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect on organized crime, human trafficking charges

The group, Lev Tahor, has had its legal problems in the past

Mexican authorities arrested the leader of an extremist ultra-orthodox Jewish sect during a raid on the group’s compound over the weekend.  

A state law enforcement official identified the man as Menachem Endel Alter of Jerusalem, leader of the Lev Tahor, who is accused of organized crime and human trafficking.

A man from the Lev Tahor, a group of ultra-orthodox Jews, carrying a stove near family members in in the village of San Juan La Laguna in Guatemala, August 28, 2014.

A man from the Lev Tahor, a group of ultra-orthodox Jews, carrying a stove near family members in in the village of San Juan La Laguna in Guatemala, August 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez )

The raid was carried out on the group’s compound in the municipality of Tapachula, near the Mexico-Guatemala border. Some two dozen women and children were also taken to a government shelter.  

Moshe Alter, Endel Alter's brother, delivered food to the women and children held at the shelter on Tuesday. He told The Associated Press that authorities had also taken away a 3-month-old baby whose mother was now in the shelter. 

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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. Nissan Malka, one of the protesters, accused police of illegally detaining the group’s members. 

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 allegedly kidnapped two children from their mother to return a 14-year-old girl to an illegal sexual relationship with an adult male.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.