Nov 2, 2021

2 more arrested in cold-case murders from '80s, '90s linked to Hasidic cult

Jerusalem men bring to 10 the number of suspects detained in connection with murder of man and suspected murder of missing teen
Jerusalem men bring to 10 the number of suspects detained in connection with murder of man and suspected murder of missing teen

TOI Staff
Times of Israel
October 31, 2021

Two people were arrested Sunday in connection with decades-old homicide cases linked to an extremist ultra-Orthodox sect, the Israel Police said.

The two men, residents of Jerusalem, are in their 60s and 70s, police said in a statement.

The developments raised to 10 the number of people detained recently over the suspected murder of a teenage boy and the unsolved murder of a man in the 1980s and 1990s.Stay

“Their arrests add to the other arrests made in the past two weeks within the framework of those cases,” police said.

Most details of the investigation are under a gag order that is in place until the end of the year.

The investigation into the disappearance and suspected murder of 17-year-old Nissim Shitrit and the murder of 41-year-old Avi Edri is tied to the Shuvu Bonim sect.

One of those arrested earlier this month was the husband of a woman who has told police she was forced by sect members to lure one of the victims to a specific location.

An attorney for the woman has said that her client was a victim of the extremist sect, and is cooperating with police in order to see justice done.

Police have previously said that some of those arrested were questioned over allegations of kidnapping, murder, and conspiracy to commit a crime.

Kan public broadcaster has reported that law enforcement are probing whether convicted sex offender Rabbi Eliezer Berland, head of the Shuvu Bonim sect, was personally involved in the cases.

Shitrit was allegedly beaten by the sect’s “religious police” four months before he was last seen in January 1986.

In a documentary released by Kan in 2020, one of Berland’s former disciples said that the religious police murdered the boy, dismembered him and buried his body in Eshtaol Forest near Beit Shemesh. His remains were never found and the case was never solved.

Kan reported earlier this month that police have not made any progress in locating Shitrit’s body.

Edri was found beaten to death in Ramot Forest in the north of Jerusalem in 1990.

Kan reported that Edri’s murder was linked to Shuvu Bonim by former members. It too has remained unsolved for over 30 years.

The cult-like Shuvu Bonim offshoot of the Bratslav Hasidic sect has had repeated run-ins with the law, including attacking witnesses.

Berland, its leader, fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he had sexually assaulted several female followers. After evading arrest for three years and slipping through various countries, Berland returned to Israel and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November 2016, on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault, as part of a plea deal that included seven months of time served. He was freed just five months later, in part due to his ill health.

Berland was arrested for fraud in February 2020, after hundreds of people filed police complaints saying that he had sold prayers and pills to desperate members of his community, promised families of individuals with disabilities that their loved ones would be able to walk, and told families of convicted felons that their relatives would be freed from prison.

On Thursday Berland entered prison after he was convicted of fraud in June, in a plea deal that saw him sentenced to 18 months. The sentence will include time already served as he spent a year in jail before being released to house arrest in February of this year.

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