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Suspect accused of training kids at compound for mass killing

Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, 4 (Courtesy of Clayton County, Ga., Police Department)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – One of the men arrested at a makeshift compound in remote northern Taos County was training the 11 children there to commit school shootings and “kill as many people as possible,” according to a petition filed by prosecutors to keep him behind bars.

Similar documents filed for three women arrested in the case imply that the children were brought to the compound near the Amalia community, close to the Colorado border, to receive the weapons training.

Two men, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 39, and Lucas Morton, 40, were arrested last Friday when Taos County deputies and state officials raided the compound and rescued 11 children, ages 1 to 15, who appeared to be malnourished and were described as wearing rags.

Some of those children later told the state Children, Youth and Families Department that they saw Wahhaj’s missing son, 4-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, dead at the compound and said he was buried there. Investigators recovered the remains of a small child Monday morning, but the body hasn’t been identified.


Siraj Ibn Wahhaj

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Morton, as well as the three women who were found at the compound and believed to be the children’s mothers, are being investigated for the death of the 12th child, according to court documents. All of them are being charged with 11 counts of child abuse, while Morton is being charged with harboring and aiding a felon and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj was charged with custodial interference for allegedly abducting his son from the boy’s mother in Georgia in December.

Taos Deputy District Attorney Timothy Hassan filed petitions to have all the defendants held in jail until trial, which the judge granted. Those documents say the children may have been taken to Amalia to train how to use weapons to commit school shootings.

“Additionally, one of the eleven children disclosed to a foster parent, with whom the child was placed, that the Defendant had trained the child in the use of an assault rifle in preparation for a future school shooting, to kill as many people as possible,” Morton’s petition states.

Identical petitions filed for the three women – Jany Leveille, 35, Huraj Wahhaj, 38 and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35 – accuse the adults of taking their children to New Mexico to learn to use weapons. “Additionally, upon information and belief, the Defendant transported children across state lines for the purpose of the children receiving advanced weapons training to commit future acts of violence,” the documents state.

In the petition seeking that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj be detained, Hasson wrote: “He poses a great danger to the children found on the property as well as a threat to the community as a whole due to the presence of firearms and his intent to use these firearms in a violent and illegal manner.”

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj is 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.

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 is also known for community service work.

Aleks Kostich of the Taos County Public Defender’s Office questioned the new accusation of a school shooting conspiracy against Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, saying the claim was presented with little information beyond the explanation that it came from a foster parent.

It’s unclear whether the compound may have been some kind of training facility. Several guns, including a loaded AR-15, were taken from the property, according to a search warrant affidavit, and gunshots were previously heard coming from the area.

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe previously said the adults were considered “extremists of the Muslim belief.” He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

KOAT-TV reported that Morton’s father, who was at the Taos courthouse Wednesday, said four of the 11 children found at the compound are his grandchildren and that the group came to New Mexico to practice their religion and make a better life. He said the guns were intended for protection.

Gerard Jabril Abdulwali also said on camera that the group in the compound felt like American society, particularly under the Trump administration, doesn’t accept the Muslim religion and is “not positive toward Muslims at all.”

Abdulwali said he received a text message last Thursday saying the people in the compound had run out of money and were starving and he set out from New York to deliver “a care package.” He said he didn’t contact law enforcement.

Law enforcement raided the property after receiving information from police in Georgia that people on the compound may have been starving. The search at the compound came amidst a two-month investigation that included the FBI.

Hogrefe said at a press conference in Taos on Tuesday that he had information that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Abdul-Ghani were at the compound, but added that FBI aerial surveillance couldn’t confirm they were there and said he didn’t have probable cause to move in sooner.

Court documents show Morton bought land in the area in 2016 but has been in a land dispute with neighbors Tanya and Jason Badger, who actually own the lot the compound was built on.

Jason Badger told the Journal on Wednesday that he had contacted the TCSO to get the “squatters” off his property. Hogrefe said at the press conference Tuesday that the dispute was a civil matter and didn’t rise to the level of police intervention.

The arrested women initially gave investigators their names and the names of their children, but didn’t give any information about Abdul-Ghani except to say that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Morton told them not to talk about the boy, according to a search warrant affidavit filed Tuesday.

When questioned individually by Hogrefe, the women confirmed that Abdul-Ghani had been at the compound by giving the sheriff a “head nod.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.