Leader of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Sect and Three Followers Accused of Child Kidnapping

Members of an Orthodox Jewish community put a label from the 'International Rescue Committee for Jewish Families of the Lev Tahor Settlement' on the window of a bus in Guatemala city on September 25, 2016. Members of the sect have been accused of kidnapping two children in upstate New York. Getty Images

Four members of the "extremist" Jewish sect Lev Tahor were arrested on Friday and accused of the "terrifying" kidnapping of two children, said the Justice Department.

According to a news release by the Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York charged Nachman Helbrans, Mayer Rosner, Aron Rosner, and Jacob Rosner with kidnapping two children in Woodridge, New York, and unlawfully transporting them to Mexico.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: "As alleged in the Complaint, the defendants engaged in a terrifying kidnapping of two children in the middle of the night, taking the children across the border to Mexico.

"Thankfully, the kidnappers were no match for the perseverance of the FBI, the New York State Police, and Mexican authorities, and the children were recovered this morning after a nearly three-week search," he said.

The children, aged 12 and 14, were staying with their mother when they were seized. She had fled the sect's base in Guatemala six weeks before the kidnapping fearing for their safety, according to the release.

She had been granted temporary sole custody of the children and well as a protective order against their father, who is not named.

Lev Tahor, which means "pure heart," is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect. In 2014 most members fled from their community in Ontario, Canada, to Guatemala, after being investigated for child abuse by Canadian authorities. The sect claims it has suffered religious persecution at the hands of authorities.

The mother claimed that "the new leader of Lev Tahor, her brother Nachman Helbrans, is more extreme than her father had been, and, as a result, she fled from the group."

According to the release, Helbrans was caught on surveillance camera with the victims at an airport outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, with all three "wearing modern clothing inconsistent with the clothing typically worn by members of Lev Tahor."

It alleges that Jacob Rosner is considered by the sect to be the "husband" of the 14-year-old victim, and participated in the plot.

After a three week search the children were recovered in the town of Tenango del Air in Mexico, and will be brought back to the United States and reunited with their mother.