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Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
TAOS – Children who were rescued from a makeshift compound in a sparsely populated area in northern Taos County told investigators that they saw the body of a 4-year-old boy who was reportedly abducted in Georgia and said the body was buried at the compound, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in Taos County District Court on Tuesday.
At a news conference in Taos, Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said deputies recovered the remains of a small child at the compound near the community of Amalia on Monday morning. But investigators haven’t confirmed whether they belong to the missing boy, 4-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj.
The new affidavit also describes the moment deputies moved in on the compound last Friday and sheds more light on the conditions there.
Two men, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 39 – father of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj – and Lucas Morton, 40, were arrested at the compound Friday after it was stormed by state and county law enforcement officials. Eleven children, ages 1 to 15, were found at the compound and appeared to be malnourished.
Children, Youth and Families Department Secretary Monique Jacobson told the Tuesday news conference that CYFD was going to file a petition for prolonged custody of the children.
Three women who are believed to be the mothers of the children – Jany Leveille, 35, Huraj Wahhaj, 38, and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35 – were originally not charged, in hopes that they would cooperate with CYFD investigators, according to the new affidavit.
But they are now in the Taos County jail on 11 counts of child abuse. Morton also faces 11 child abuse counts, but Siraj Ibn Wahhaj faces only one count of being a fugitive from justice for allegedly abducting Abdul-Ghani from Clayton County, Ga., in December.
According to the affidavit, written by Hogrefe, CYFD conducted interviews with some of the children, some of whom said Abdul-Ghani had died at the compound.
“I have learned that at least two of the children disclosed that AG Wahhaj was at the compound and in poor health and died there,” Hogrefe wrote.
One 8-year-old child said that all the adults in the compound had seen Abdul-Ghani deceased and that “Uncle Lucas” – an apparent reference to Morton – washed the body twice and buried it in either a tunnel deputies found around the compound or in the “toilet room.”
When questioned, the women gave their names and the names of their children, “but would not give any information as to the whereabouts of AG Wahhaj except to say that ‘he is not my son and I (we) am not allowed to talk about him,'” the affidavit states.
But Hogrefe wrote that when he interviewed the three women individually, they confirmed Abdul-Ghani had been there by confirming with a “head nod.”
“Each woman was insistent they had been told by the males that they could not talk about AG Wahhaj and simply would not,” Hogrefe wrote. The women said they were not being held at the compound against their will.
Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, 4, was allegedly abducted by Siraj Ibn Wahhaj in Clayton County, Ga., last December. The boy reportedly suffered from serious medical problems, including seizures, and developmental and cognitive delays, and had suffered brain damage at birth that left him walking with a limp.
His mother told police in Georgia that the boy’s father – Siraj Ibn Wahhaj – wanted to perform an exorcism on the child. She said Wahhaj believed “the child is possessed by the devil” and that he intended to deny the boy his medication.
On Dec. 13, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and the boy 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 travelers were picked up by Morton.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj is reportedly the son of Siraj Wahhaj, a prominent imam at the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn, N.Y., who has posted on social media about worries over the missing boy and other family members.
In an email responding to a Journal inquiry before Tuesday’s news that a child’s body had been found at the New Mexico compound, the imam said, “We are grateful for Law Enforcement for locating our family members.
“Our major concern right now is finding my grandson, Abdul Ghani and returning him to his mother Hakimah, my daughter in law. We pray to Allah that Allah protect him. … Next I pray for all my grandchildren. We will try to get them all the help that they need.”
The imam was listed by a federal prosecutor as among 170 “unindicted persons who may be alleged as co-conspirators” in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. But he also is known for community service work.
Hogrefe had previously described the residents of the compound as extremist. On Tuesday, he said, “I can’t comment further on that. As I said, we worked collectively with FBI and Georgia authorities. The investigation is still ongoing, both federally and at the state level.”
He also wouldn’t comment on the suggestion that Siraj Wahhaj, the missing boy’s father, wanted an exorcism.
Hogrefe said that although New Mexico authorities learned Wahhaj could be in New Mexico in May, local authorities couldn’t confirm that he was at the Amalia compound and that’s why they didn’t move in sooner.
Last Thursday, someone got a message to Georgia police saying people in the compound were starving. “For me, that was the breaking point, where I thought we finally had enough probable cause to put in an affidavit for a search warrant and present it to a district judge,” the sheriff said.
Court documents show that Jason and Tany Badger, who live nearby, have been in a land dispute with Morton. The Associated Press reports that Badger and his wife had pressed authorities to remove the group of people in the makeshift compound, which he says is on his land. The court case over a purchase agreement between the Badgers and Morton was dismissed.
The latest affidavit also provides more detail on what officers found when they raided the compound on Friday.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj was found in a partially buried camper trailer with two adult females and several children inside and “refused our verbal commands to come out with his hands up,” Hogrefe wrote.
When deputies took Wahhaj into custody, he had a loaded revolver in his pocket and was wearing a belt with five loaded 30-round AR-15 magazines on it. There was also a loaded AR-15 rifle next to him, the affidavit says. Four handguns were also found in the room.
Two of the children and the other woman were found in a 2006 Ford moving van that deputies believe they were living in.