Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
TAOS – The mother of a disabled boy whose disappearance led to a law enforcement raid at a remote, ramshackle compound north of Taos last week told police in Georgia that the boy’s father wanted to perform an exorcism on the child.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit filed in Taos, the woman said Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 39, one of five adults now charged after the Friday raid, believed “the child is possessed by the devil” and that he intended to deny the boy his medication.
Court arraignments for the defendants arrested near the community of Amalia, close to the Colorado state line, were postponed Monday and are now set to take place in Taos County Magistrate Court today or Wednesday.
Eleven children who were found at the compound, ranging in age from 1 to 15, are in state custody.
However, the whereabouts of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, 4, who was allegedly abducted by Siraj Ibn Wahhaj in Clayton County, Ga., last December, is still unknown.
The boy, whose fourth birthday was Monday, reportedly suffers from serious medical issues, including seizures, and developmental and cognitive delays, and had suffered brain damage at birth that left him walking with a limp.
His mother had reported in December that she did not know if the father had the boy’s medication with him when they left.
An arrest warrant filed by the Taos County Sheriff’s Office says recent video surveillance of the Amalia compound by the FBI showed one boy walking with a limp.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj is reportedly the son of Siraj Wahhaj, a prominent imam at the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Siraj Wahhaj, the imam, was tied to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. A U.S. attorney in 1995 listed him as among 170 “unindicted persons who may be alleged as co-conspirators” in the bombing.
The imam is also credited with helping organize a successful community-led anti-drug patrol in Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Last Friday, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Lucas Morton, 40, were charged after state and county law enforcement officials raided the compound. Both have Georgia addresses and Morton also was listed with an address at the Amalia compound.
Morton has been involved in a land dispute that ended up in court in Taos.
On Sunday, three women from the compound were also charged.
They were identified as Jany Leveille, 35, Hujrah Wahhaj, 38, and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35. The women are believed to be the mother of the children found during the Friday raid.
The five adults are each charged with 11 counts of child abuse, a third-degree felony.
In January, a Facebook page under the name of the Brooklyn imam included a posting calling for the safe return of “our children and grandchildren,” naming Siraj, Hujrah and Subhannah Wahhaj – three of those arrested Friday – and identifying two more arrestees, Lucas Morton and Jany Leveille, as a son-in-law and daughter-in-law.
The posting says the adults were believed to be traveling together with “our 12 grandchildren” – one less child than was found at the Taos County compound.
The message was signed by the “Wahhaj Family.”
Another post from that same month includes a 6-minute video in which Hakima Ramzi, identified as the wife of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and the mother of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, the missing 4-year-old, tearfully pleads for help in finding her son.
“I want to get my son back, that’s it. I don’t want to be alone. I need nothing from you,” she said in an apparent plea to her husband.
According to one of the affidavits for the Friday arrests, the Taos County compound was surrounded in part by an earthen berm with old tires stacked around it. A small camper trailer had been partially buried.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe described the site as “the ugliest, filthiest living conditions” he had ever seen.
Wood with nails sticking up, broken glass and bottles littered the area, and a propane tank with a leaky valve was also found on the property.
Investigators also found open trenches and pits.
KOB television reported that a couple who say they own the site showed a reporter on Sunday a 150-foot-long tunnel that could be used for an escape from the compound.
“Overall, this is readily identifiable and hazardous with extremely filthy living conditions which greatly resemble that of what would be considered ‘third world country in nature’ with odorous trash everywhere, no clean water, no electricity, no plumbing/sewer, and the children were not clean, without shoes and without proper hygiene, and rags of clothing,” according to the sheriff’s office affidavit. It went on to say that the children had likely not eaten in days.
A cache of weapons and ammunition was also found at the compound.
“Loaded firearms were also found where a child can easily reach there,” according to the affidavit, which said the site had probably been occupied for at least two months.
Wahhaj, the father of the missing boy, was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and was in possession of five loaded 30-round magazines and four loaded pistols, including one in his pocket, when he was “taken down,” according to a statement from Sheriff Hogrefe.
Hogrefe said law enforcement had to take a tactical approach while executing the search warrant because he learned “the occupants were most likely heavily armed and considered extremist of the Muslim belief.”
On Dec. 13, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and the boy reported missing were involved in an accident on an interstate highway in Alabama. They were traveling with two other adults and five other children, and told police they were headed to New Mexico on a camping trip.
The stranded travelers were later picked up by Morton, who was driving a Ford box truck that appears to match the description of a truck parked on the property in Amalia.
Sheriff Hogrefe said the compound had been under FBI surveillance for some time, but the federal agency didn’t feel it had enough probable cause to enter the property.
Hogrefe said he decided to take action after receiving information from a detective in Georgia. Someone inside the compound had sent texts or instant messages that had been photographed and then sent to the detective via email that said, “We are starving and need food and water.”
Law enforcement personnel were still searching the compound on Monday and kept news reporters and photographers a distance away.
Children in custody
Monique Jacobson, secretary of the state Children, Youth and Families Department, said Monday that for privacy reasons she couldn’t say anything about the conditions of the children when they came into CYFD custody after the raid, but she said they were being well taken care of.
“Our focus first and foremost is making sure their basic needs are being met,” she said, adding that the first priority was that the children were fed and had clean clothes to wear.
She also said that the children were given medical assessments.
Jacobson said children that come into CYFD custody normally are placed in a home-like setting, like a foster home, as quickly as possible. Taking in 11 children all at once is unusual, she said, and her department tries to place siblings together whenever possible in an effort to minimize trauma.