BERLIN -- Police raided a Christian sect in southern Germany and took 40 children from it on allegations they were being physically abused, authorities said Friday.
Bavarian police said the children of the so-called "Twelve Tribes" sect were taken into protective custody the day before as investigators look into allegations that they were being beaten and otherwise physically punished.
About 100 police were involved in the raids.
Authorities say 28 of the children were found at one of the sect's locations in the area of the town of Deinigen, and 12 others in the Woernitz area.
The sect said in a statement on its website that the children were aged 1 ½ to 17 and that they would remain with foster parents at least until a court hearing next week.
"Where is the legal basis here?" the statement said. "People cannot be found guilty based on their association with a religious faith ... there was no direct evidence against any individual provided."
Still, in a description of the U.S.-founded sect's beliefs, the group said its members believe in spanking their children though "we know that some people consider this aspect of our life controversial."
"We love our children and consider them precious and wonderful -- because we love them we do spank them ..." the group said. "When they are disobedient or intentionally hurtful to others we spank them with a small reed-like rod, which only inflicts pain and not damage."
The sect, founded by a Tennessee high school teacher in the 1970s, today has about 2,000 to 3,000 members worldwide, according to its website.
They have previously had problems in Germany for violating laws on homeschooling their children.
Its practices have run afoul of the law in the U.S. as well, including in 2000 in Connecticut where a couple belonging to the group pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and cruelty for disciplining their children with a 30-inch (76-centimeter) fiberglass rod.
In 1984, authorities raided the group in Vermont and removed 112 children on abuse allegations. A judge later ruled the raid illegal and returned the children to their parents.