Twenty members of a Jewish sect have escaped detention in Mexico after a crackdown on the group accused of drug trafficking and rape, an official said on Friday.
The sect called Lev Tahor was formed in the 1980s and its members practice an ultra-Orthodox form of Judaism in which women wear black tunics that cover them from head to toe.
Twenty cult members were taken to government-run shelters on September 23 after Mexican authorities raided the cult compound in the city of Tapachula, in southern Chiapas state.
On Thursday, dramatic television images showed members of the group in billowing robes pushing past guards at the shelter – one of whom was seen lying on the ground – before walking away.
“They didn’t let us go. This is a violation of the right to liberty, the right to be religious,” one member told journalists after the outburst.
“So the community had to make this decision,” he added.
The outbreak happened in Huixtla, about 190 kilometers from the border with Guatemala, said a government agency official, who asked not to be named.
“They destroyed the shelter” run by Mexican social agencies and fled, the official said.
“They hit the guards with stones,” the person added.
The first raid was announced Tuesday by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which said 26 people arrested included citizens of Israel, Canada, the United States and Guatemala.
Two of them were suspected of sex crimes and human trafficking and could face up to 20 years in prison, the ministry said in a statement.
Two other people wanted by police were believed to have left the premises days earlier, she added.
“A private Israeli team” accompanied the police, the ministry said, while the Israeli consul “stayed close by” to ensure members of the cult were treated well and children were not separated from their mothers.
A three-year-old boy was handed over to his father, who fled the cult a few years ago, and both arrived in Israel on Monday, the statement said.