Mexico probes child sex allegations in religious sect

NUEVO LAREDO (AFP) - The Spanish leader of a sect in Mexico who saw himself as the reincarnation of Christ is being investigated over claims children were forced into sex, an official said on Wednesday.

Mexican authorities broke up the cult, Defenders of Christ, during a raid on a house near the US border in Nuevo Laredo city, where 14 foreigners, including Spaniard Ignacio Gonzalez de Arriba, and 10 Mexicans were found.

Gonzalez de Arriba was accused by former members of "promoting illegal sexual practices in which he forced minors to participate and we are working on that," a source in the prosecutor's office told AFP.

Another official said that leaders of the cult were being investigated for human trafficking.

Officials refused to give more details.

While a statement from the National Migration Institute named Jose Arenas Losanger of Venezuela as the sect's leader, the Support Network for Sect Victims, which filed a complaint to Mexican authorities last year, said he was Gonzalez de Arriba's deputy.

The network, a victims advocacy group, and a former cult member told AFP that Gonzalez de Arriba forced women into sex slavery, forbade followers to bathe and made them eat raw animal parts such as heart, liver and tripe.

Followers were indoctrinated by watching hours of videos of the cult leader's teachings, men were encouraged to have several wives and women were forced into prostitution, said Ms Myrna Garcia, an adviser to the network.

Women were "sex slaves, it was human trafficking," Ms Garcia told AFP.

A 40-year-old woman who left the sect a few years ago said women were forced to participate in orgies and fetch prostitutes for the cult's leader, in a house that was filthy and filled with pictures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

"He said he was Christ himself," said the woman, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.

"They broke you down, punished you by not letting you eat and denigrated you.

"The psychosis was so terrible that you believed all of it," she added.

"But then I thought, 'Christ can't be such a cruel person, screaming at people, forcing you to prostitute yourself.'" Gonzalez de Arriba was against hygiene and would go many days without a bath, she said.

"He forced us to eat animal organs like tripe, heart, liver - supposedly because raw organs gave you powers and energy," the woman said. "When you're hungry you eat what they put in front of you."