Spanish woman and baby freed from ‘sect’ in Peruvian jungle

Man arrested after allegedly keeping women as slaves

Rescued Spanish citizen Patricia Aguilar, who disappeared in 2017 and has lived with a sect in a remote jungle region of Peru. Photograph: AFP Photo/Municipality of San Martin de Pangoa

A young Spanish woman has been rescued from a suspected sect leader in the Peruvian jungle after allegedly being groomed by him online.

Police found Patricia Aguilar in the town of Pangoa, in Peru's central Junín region. A man called Félix Manrique (35) was arrested in the same town under suspicion of having abducted Ms Aguilar and of keeping her and other women as slaves. Spanish and Peruvian media have reported that he was the leader of a sect.

Ms Aguilar's father, Alberto, who had travelled to Peru to find her, said that Mr Manrique had "psychologically kidnapped" his daughter.

When found, she was with a baby, believed to be hers and fathered by Mr Manrique.


Ms Aguilar, from Alicante, went to Peru in January 2017 shortly after turning 18, apparently to join Mr Manrique. Her father said that the two had made contact via the internet when his daughter was 16.

The Peruvian police had been on the trail of Mr Manrique for several months ahead of his arrest.

“This case began in January,” the Peruvian police’s head of people trafficking investigations, José Antonio Capa, told El País newspaper.

“In June we managed to impose restrictive measures on Manrique and 10 days ago a team of eight people were ordered to find and rescue the victims.”

A year ago, after Ms Aguilar’s case became known, she told América Noticias that she had “not been captured by a sect” and that she was not being kept against her will.

However, a month ago, her father went to Peru to try to track her down.


In total, three women and five children were rescued from Mr Manrique, the police said. All were suffering from malnutrition.

“I’ve been sent a photo of her and I didn’t recognise her,” said Maite Rojas of the charity SOS Desaparecidos, which looks for missing people. “She lived . . . in terrible conditions. They were only given food once a week.”

Adriana Vega, the sister of one of the other people rescued, said that Mr Manrique had sexual relations with the women he kept and that he “combined different religions for his own convenience”.

The Spanish media has said that Mr Manrique was the leader of Gnosis Perú, which was described as a “satanic” and “apocalyptic” sect, and it was reported that he called himself “Prince Gurdjeff”. However, Gnosis Perú has issued a statement distancing itself from him, saying that he was only involved with the group for a short time in 2012.

Meanwhile, Ms Aguilar's father has said he would like to take his daughter back to Spain as soon as possible.

“We went with the police to help us get her out of where she was – now we’re going to see how she is,” he said. “I don’t know how she is doing psychologically.”

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain