Children and older teenagers have been removed from the jungle compound of a Jewish sect in Mexico following a raid by police, the BBC has learned.
Two members of Lev Tahor were arrested on suspicion of human trafficking and serious sexual offences, including rape, Israel’s foreign ministry said.
A three-year-old child removed from the compound has been flown to Israel.
Lev Tahor (Hebrew for Pure Heart) is known for extremist practices and imposing a strict regime on members.
It advocates child marriage, inflicts harsh punishments for even minor transgressions and requires women and girls as young as three years old to completely cover up with robes.
The stricture has earned the group the nickname the Jewish Taliban, because of seeming similarities with the dress code enforced by the Sunni Muslim extremist group which controls Afghanistan.
On Friday morning, police made their way into the compound 11 miles (17.5km) north of Tapachula in Chiapas State.
They had been instructed by a federal judge to detain several leaders suspected of child abuse and rescue members of the sect, following an investigation by the attorney general’s Special Prosecutor for Organised Crime (FEMDO).
An Israeli source connected to the operation said the boys and girls were quickly separated from the rest of the group because of fears their lives could be at risk from members trying to prevent them from being removed.
Twenty-six members were found in the compound, among them Israelis with dual citizenships including Canada, the US and Guatemala, Israel’s foreign ministry said.
It said a Canadian and an Israeli citizen were arrested, while two other wanted members reportedly left the compound two days before the raid and are being sought. Five more were detained for allegedly breaking immigration rules.
The remaining members are being housed at a facility of the Mexican Ministry of Welfare pending a decision on what will happen to them, the Israeli foreign ministry said.
The Mexican police worked alongside a four-man volunteer team from Israel, including former Mossad agents, in planning and carrying out the operation. -BBC