Eight underage girls, who were rescued from an alleged polygamist cult, were found hiding in an Airbnb after escaping from group homes.

Officials say that the girls had been removed from the homes of Arizona cult leader Samuel Bateman last September and placed in the custody of the Arizona Department of Child Safety.

The girls, who are aged between 11 and 16, vanished from their new homes outside Phoenix last Sunday, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Authorities found them four days later at the Airbnb in Spokane, Washington, with a cult member called Moretta Rose Johnson, whom they tracked via a credit card linked to the reservation.

The 19-year-old, who married the cult leader while she was underage, has now been accused of kidnapping by federal authorities, according to the newspaper.

A 24-year-old woman was also arrested in relation to the missing girls in Colorado City, Arizona.

She was booked into the Mohave County jail on suspicion of kidnapping, obstructing a criminal investigation, resisting arrest and tampering with a witness, according to KXLY.

Mr Bateman, 46, is the leader of a splinter group of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, made infamous by imprisoned cult leader Warren Jeffs.

Bateman was once one of Jeffs’s trusted followers but was eventually denounced by him from prison, according to the Associated Press.

An FBI affidavit stated that the eight runaway girls, plus one other girl, were removed from his homes on 14 September as part of a federal investigation into whether he had underage wives or had sex with minors.

He has been in jail since August after three girls aged between 11 and 14 were found locked inside a trailer he was transporting near Flagstaff, Arizona.

The FBI affidavit states that he had “approximately 50 followers and over 20 wives, many of whom are minors, mostly under the age of 15.”

Polygamy is illegal in the US as is marrying under the age of 16 in Arizona without a judge’s permission. The court document states that one of the girls was as young as nine.

Bateman has not been charged with any counts of sexual abuse, but the FBI stated in the court documents that it has probable cause to believe he and others transported minors between Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Nebraska to engage in illicit sexual conduct between May 2020 and November 2021.

Authorities say they first received complaints about Mr Bateman in 2020 from the grandparents of several young girls he was accused of taking as wives.

The parents of the girls were questioned in November 2020 and told officials they were fine with Mr Bateman and no charges were brought against him at that time.

Court documents state allegations that he made sexual advances towards his own daughter, bribing her with $50 and two bags of Doritos, and allegedly saying that “if his feelings were right, he would do what a boy does to make [her] have a baby.”

Original Article