Leader of polygamist cult arrested after two years on run

By Andrew Buncombe

The leader of a notorious polygamist cult and one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives was last night behind bars after being pulled over in a routine stop by a patrol officer in Nevada.

Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was wanted in Utah and Arizona on suspicion of arranging marriages between men and underage girls.

In May authorities offered a US$100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

On its website the FBI posted a "captured" notice under the picture of Mr Jeffs, who is listed alongside the likes Osama Bin Laden and a series of other criminals who face accusations of murder.

An FBI spokesman, David Staretz, said that Mr Jeffs was taken into custody on Monday evening after he and two other people were pulled over north of Las Vegas.

The other two people in the vehicle were identified as one of Mr Jeffs' wives, Naomi Jeffs, and a brother, Isaac Steve Jeffs, said Mr Staretz.

They were being interviewed by the FBI in Las Vegas but have not been arrested.

Mr Jeffs had been on the run for two years. In that time he had been able to establish compounds in Colorado, South Dakota and Texas.

It is estimated that he performed scores of marriages ceremony in his role as a self-styled prophet or "speaker of God's will" and has 80 wives of his own.

His followers are not permitted to have books, newspapers or television and they are told that much of the outside world is evil.

Mr Jeffs was indicted in June on an Arizona charge of arranging a marriage between a 16-year-old girl and a married man, and taking flight to avoid prosecution.

He faces two similar charges in Utah Nevada State trooper Kevin Honea, yesterday told CNN that Mr Jeffs was stopped during a routine patrol and checked for a temporary registration violation.

The patrolman who stopped Mr Jeffs apparently recognised him and Mr Jeffs confirmed his identity.

Mr Jeffs became leader of his church of around 10,000 followers in 2002 following the death of his father, Rulon Jeffs, who had previously led the group, which split from the mainstream Mormon church or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around a century ago when that church disavowed polygamy.

One of his first statements following his father's death was: "I won't say much, but I will say this - hands off my father's wives." He subsequently went on to marry many of his father's 75 or so wives.

The church has its headquarters on the Utah-Arizona border.

The church has long been the focus of allegations that members are forced to obtain a supply of young brides for older members of the group - something that has also resulted in the banishment of younger male members.

- INDEPENDENT

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