A few days following the raid on the ultra-Orthodox cult Lev Tahor in Mexico, a former Mossad agent, who took part in the operation shared the details of rescuing innocent children trapped in the extremist religious group.
Danny Limor was among several volunteers who took part in the operation led by the Mexican police. During the raid, 26 members of the cult - including its leader - were captured, leading to the rescue of members who were trapped in the cult.
“We’ve been following the cult ever since we identified its location in Guatemala,” Limor said in a Ynet interview. "We’ve managed to built a case against the cult in recent months, while cooperating with Mexican authorities. This led to the eventual raid to arrest some of the cult’s senior members.
Among those who were rescued was the three-year-old son of Israel Amir, one of the cult's members who escaped it three years ago. "Another important goal was to rescue as many children as possible, belonging to families who managed to escape the cult and asked us for help.”
Limor was there when Amir eventually reunited with his son. “Israel recognized his son very quickly, but his son didn’t recognize him. But, the child understood it was someone who loved him.”
Despite the success of the raid, Limor says the goal of the operation is yet to be fulfilled since the cult is still active, and holding onto children whose families wait for them in Israel.
“This isn’t over. There’s another branch of this cult in Guatemala, as well as in other places. But, the cult's members now lack leadership,” Limor explained.
The raid, which occurred last Friday along the Mexico-Guatemala border, was “very successful,” according to Limor. “It was carried out by a special forces unit of the Mexican police, which operated very professionally. They surprised both the cult members and myself.”
BBC World News, citing an Israel source, reported that the children in the cult were quickly separated from the rest of the cult members during the operation. According to the source, this was done out of fear that adult cult members may use children as hostages.
The Foreign Ministry said that Israeli Consul in Mexico Lior Bazov was instructed to make sure no violence and forceful evacuation of the cult members would take place during the raid.
Limor says that police forces didn’t use violence but, “the cult members obviously were not okay with being arrested ... they were taken to a local social service facility, which is working with the Justice Ministry.”
The Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that in order to avoid confrontations with the cult members, it was decided to leave the members in the hands of local authorities for the time being. The ministry emphasized that efforts were being made to convince the cult members to return to Israel.
Limor says he hoped some of the members will agree to return, but that “they weren’t happy to see us.” He added that “they are only human. There’s a chance that their motivation to reunite their families will increase now that their leadership has been taken down.”
Lev Tahor, meaning "pure heart" in Hebrew, was founded in Jerusalem in the 1980s by charismatic leader Rabbi Shlomo Hebrans, who died in mysterious circumstances in Mexico in 2017. The group and is estimated to number less than 300 members.
According to members who escaped from the cult, its male participants use forms of punishments against women and children - including starvation and severe violence, and force children to marry at a very young age, and even get pregnant.
Members who escaped the cult, have testified that senior officials of the cult have sexually abuse children.
Helbrans' son, Nachman Helbrans, along with other senior cult officials were captures by the FBI and are currently serving their sentence in a U.S. prison.