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FBI arrests Taos compound defendants

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The FBI on Friday arrested all five Amalia compound defendants and charged them with federal firearms and conspiracy counts.

One of the five Muslim defendants, a native of Haiti, now is charged in federal court with unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition by an alien living illegally in the U.S., and the other four are charged with aiding and abetting and conspiring with her in the weapons violation.

The FBI arrests came as Taos District Attorney Donald Gallegos dropped the last of the major state court charges against members of the group.

The compound residents have been accused in court documents of training children to carry out armed attacks, but so far they have not faced any terrorism-related charges.

The defendants – Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, Lucas Morton, 40, Jany Leveille, 35, Hujrah Wahhaj, 37 and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35 – were arrested on Aug. 3 after Taos County deputies and other agents raided their makeshift compound near the Amalia community and the Colorado border.

Eleven children, ages 1 to 15, described by law enforcement officials as appearing to be malnourished, were taken into custody by the state Children, Youth and Families Department.

The remains of 3-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj’s son, were found in a tunnel at the compound a few days later.

The adults were charged with 11 counts of child abuse – one for each child – but all those counts were dropped Wednesday after two judges found that the District Attorney’s Office failed to meet a deadline to hold preliminary hearings. Morton, Subhannah Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj were subsequently released from jail.

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Leveille, who are married, had also been charged with child abuse resulting in death and conspiracy to commit child abuse after the state Office of the Medical Investigator confirmed that the remains found at the compound were those of Wahhaj’s son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj.

Those charges were dropped Friday by Gallegos, who said he plans to take the compound cases to a local grand jury that won’t meet until Sept. 27.

All five were arrested by the FBI and sheriff’s deputies “without incident” in Taos on Friday afternoon, a news release said.

The federal criminal complaint says the group did “knowingly conspire, combine, confederate and agree with each other and act interdependently with one another to knowingly provide Jany Leveille … an alien who was illegally and unlawfully in the United States, possession of firearms and ammunition.” Leveille is originally from Haiti and has been in the U.S. illegally since December 1998, the complaint says.

The federal complaint reiterates allegations by state prosecutors that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj was training the children to use guns in a tactical way in addition to training them in hand-to-hand combat.

After Abdul-Ghani died, the other children reportedly were told that the boy was supposed to be resurrected as “Isa,” or Jesus, and instruct them on which “corrupt” institutions – like schools, banks and law enforcement – to get rid of.

One child told the FBI that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj “wanted to get an army together and train them to conduct what he called ‘jihad,’ ” which meant killing people for Allah, the complaint says. Leveille would then instruct them to kill anyone she determined to be a nonbeliever.

One of the children also said that Leveille “was the head of the household, and would order Siraj Ibn Wahhaj to recite scripture over the ailing Abdul-Ghani, which he did on a regular basis.

Abdul-Ghani suffered from a medical condition that caused severe seizures and required medication. State prosecutors had alleged that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Leveille intentionally deprived Abdul-Ghani of his medication and instead would perform a prayer ritual over him to cast out the demons they believed were making him sick.

According to the federal complaint, one child told the FBI that Abdul-Ghani died in February, but Leveille wrote in her journal that the boy died on Christmas Eve 2017.

One child told the FBI that Leveille and “others at the Compound” told them not to talk about Abdul-Ghani ever being at the compound or they would “all go to jail.”

Several guns, ammunition and a bulletproof vest were found at the compound. The complaint says that evidence suggests the guns were transported from Georgia to New Mexico and were kept unsecured and were readily accessible to anyone at the compound.

The complaint says Leveille came to the U.S. via New York in June 1998 as a non-immigrant visitor for a period that was not supposed to exceed six months. It also says that she wanted to marry Siraj Ibn Wahhaj so she could remain in the U.S.

Gallegos said in a Facebook post that he dropped the child abuse resulting in death charges against Leveille and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj in favor of grand jury proceedings to avoid holding a rushed preliminary hearing on the charges.

“Had the cases gone to preliminary hearing within the 10 days as required, it would be nearly impossible to get all the witnesses, documents, exhibits, statements, etc., that would be required to have the court make a finding of probable cause,” a Taos DA’s Office press release said.

His statement said that cases against the other adults will also be presented to a grand jury.