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Twenty members of a Jewish sect escaped from detention in Mexico following a raid targeting the group, which is accused of drug trafficking and rape, an official said Friday.
The sect called Lev Tahor was formed in the 1980s and members practice an ultra-Orthodox form of Judaism in which women wear black tunics covering them from head to toe.
Twenty sect members were taken to a government-run shelter on September 23, after a raid by the Mexican authorities on the sect compound in the town of Tapachula in southern Chiapas state.
On Thursday dramatic television images showed members of the group dressed in flowing robes pushing past guards at that shelter -- one of whom was seen lying on the ground -- before walking away.
"They didn't let us leave. That's a violation of the right to freedom, the right to be religious," one member told journalists after the breakout.
"That's why the community had to make this decision," he added.
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The breakout occurred in Huixtla, located about 190 kilometers (120 miles) from the border with Guatemala, said a government agency official, who asked not to be named.
"They destroyed the shelter" run by Mexican welfare authorities and fled, the official said.
"They hit the guards with stones," the person added.
The initial raid was revealed on Tuesday by Israel's foreign ministry, which said that citizens of Israel, Canada, the United States and Guatemala were among a total of 26 people detained.
Two of them were suspected of sex crimes and human trafficking and could face up to 20 years in jail, the ministry said in a statement.
Two others wanted by police were believed to have left the compound days earlier, it added.
"A private Israeli team" accompanied police, the ministry said, while the Israeli consul "was staying nearby" in order to ensure that the members of the sect were well treated and that the children were not separated from their mothers.
A three-year-old boy was handed over to his father who had fled the sect several years ago, and both arrived in Israel on Monday, the statement said.
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