Leader of fringe haredi Orthodox sect reportedly drowned in Mexico

(JTA) — The leader of a fringe haredi Orthodox sect suspected of abusing children drowned in a river in Mexico, according to local media.

Israeli-born Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans reportedly was found drowned in a river Friday in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday night that it is looking into the reports of Helbrans’ death to determine if they are accurate.

The sect, which has about 230 members, relocated to Guatemala from Canada in 2014 following allegations of mistreatment of its children including abuse and child marriages.

It moved in 2016 from the outskirts of Guatemala City to Oratorio, a village 30 miles east of Guatemala City, after religious disputes with its neighbors, and reportedly crossed the border from Guatemala to Mexico three weeks ago.

The group shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. It was founded by Helbrans in Israel in the 1980s and rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish promised land can only be established by God, not men.

Helbrans left Israel with several followers for the United States in the 1990s, and later served two years in prison for kidnapping after helping a 13-year-old boy go into hiding from his secular mother. Following his imprisonment, he fled to Canada and granted refugee status after claiming persecution in Israel for his religious and political beliefs.

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