Police raided an Israeli cult-like group yesterday headed by a 60-year-old man who has been holding women and children against their will under "slavery" conditions, in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood of Jerusalem.
Women who had managed to escape the group described it as a "cult" to the police as they carried out their month-long undercover investigation, with the help of the country's own specialist group – the Israeli Centre for Victims of Cults.
Leading along with eight other female accomplices, police said the 60-year-old man, who reportedly considers himself a rabbi, was arrested after being suspected of committing "severe offenses" against those he held hostage, which included almost 50 women and children between the ages of one to five.
כת של גורו והרמון נשים בירושלים
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המשטרה פשטה לפני זמן קצר על מתחם בשכונת הבוכרים בי-ם, השייך לקהילה הפועלת במעטה של 'סמינר נשים', אשר חיות יחד עם ילדיהן בדוחק וצפיפות במתחמי המגורים, כשבראש הסמינר עומד אדם בשנות ה 60, שעפ"י החשד מבצע עבירות שונות כלפיהן וכלפי ילדיהן pic.twitter.com/Kc4W9inApt
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The victims were kept out of contact with their families and the outside world and held jobs approved by the man, with some of their wages being transferred directly to him, reported the international news company Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Police said the suspected cult operated for years under the guise of a women's seminar in the Bukharim Quarter, in the city centre.
The man had been arrested on similar charges in 2015, but was set free after women of the alleged cult testified on his behalf.
According to the Haaretz newspaper, complaints of the suspected cult crimes and abuse date back to 2011, when relatives of women living there complained to police. However, authorities were reportedly "powerless to intervene" as the women were adults and insisted they were there of their own free will.
According to Sky News, it is thought that victims were sexually abused, and some say they were told to put their hands in to fires to see what "hell feels like".
Superintendent Isaac Simon said that the alleged victims of the group were kept in "very cramped conditions and difficult sanitary conditions," during their time there.