Sunday, April 6, 2008

More raids on Texas polygamy sect

Church built at the FLDS's compound in Texas (2005)
Sect members believe men must have at least three wives to get to heaven.

Texas authorities have continued raids on a ranch belonging to a breakaway Mormon sect, removing a total of almost 200 women and children since Thursday.

Police officers first raided the ranch after reports that a 16-year-old girl was physically and sexually abused.

Detectives are looking for evidence of a marriage between the girl and a 50-year-old man. She is thought to have had a child when she was 15.

The sect is led by polygamist Warren Jeffs, jailed as an accomplice to rape.

Under Texan law, girls younger than 16 cannot marry, even with parental approval.

Search continues

Texas Child Protective Services have now removed 137 children and 46 women, who are being questioned.

Spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said they were doing fine and that officials remained at the ranch looking for more children.

It was not clear whether the girl who sparked the search was still at the compound or was among those removed and had not been identified.

Officials have also been authorised to remove computer hard drives, CDs, DVDs and photos.

Ms Meisner was unable to say whether the women and children had left voluntarily.

Local news reports said shelters had been set up for them.

The authorities said that none of the 52 women and girls picked up in initial raids would be returning to the ranch.

Eighteen of them were at risk of further abuse and would remain in state custody, they said.

Mormon split

Jeffs, head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was convicted after he forced a 14-year-old girl to marry her cousin.

Picture of Warren Jeffs taken after his arrest by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Warren Jeffs led the breakaway Mormon sect from 2002
The self-proclaimed prophet is currently awaiting trial in Arizona on charges of being an accomplice to four counts of incest and sexual conduct with a minor stemming from two arranged marriages.

The sprawling ranch is located in Eldorado county, about 260km (160 miles) north-west of the Texan town of San Antonio.

It is not known how many people live there.

The 10,000-strong sect, which dominates the towns of Colorado City in Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, split from the mainstream Mormon church more than a century ago.

Members believe a man must marry at least three wives in order to ascend to heaven. Women are meanwhile taught that their path to heaven depends on being subservient to their husband.

Polygamy is illegal in the US, but the authorities have reportedly been reluctant to confront the FLDS for fear of sparking a tragedy similar to the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas, which led to the deaths of about 80 members.