The US Justice Department sued two polygamist-dominated towns on the Utah-Arizona border on Thursday, citing religious discrimination and saying they had operated for two decades as an arm of a breakaway Mormon sect.

The complaint accuses the cities of carrying out the “will and dictates” of now-imprisoned sect leader Warren Jeffs, who is serving a prison term of life plus 20 years in Texas for raping two underage girls he wed in “spiritual marriages.”

Most of the more than 8 800 residents of the twin towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, are members of Jeffs’ Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which experts estimate has 10 000 followers in North America.

The suit, filed in US District Court in Arizona, said the police agency serving the two towns had sometimes deployed deputies to confront people about their disobedience to sect rules or to tell them to report to the sect leadership.

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