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Compound defendants arraigned on federal gun charges; DA jousts with AG

SANTA FE, N.M. — Five adults connected to a compound in Taos where a dead child was found were arraigned on federal firearms charges Tuesday morning.

One of the five Muslim defendants, a native of Haiti, 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 federal counts were filed after child abuse charges against all five were either dismissed by judges or dropped by the District Attorney’s Office in Taos last week.

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, Lucas Morton, 40, Jany Leveille, 35, Hujrah Wahhaj, 37, and Subhanah Wahhaj, 35, will have preliminary and detention hearings today in federal court in Albuquerque.

The group was arrested last month and all five were charged with child abuse after Taos County deputies raided the compound near the New Mexico-Colorado border. Authorities found 11 children described as malnourished and a dead boy, 3-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj. The boy, who suffered from seizures, was found in a tunnel and is Sirah Ibn Wahhaj’s son, according to court documents.

Leviell and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj had faced state charges of child abuse resulting in death in state court for not providing the boy with medication. Those counts also were dropped last week after judges had dismissed the lower-level child abuse counts against all five defendants because the Taos District Attorney’s Office had missed deadlines to hold preliminary hearings .

Court documents state that the adults were training children at the compound to carry out armed attacks on various institutions, such as schools and banks. Citing interviews with children now in state custody, investigators have said that Levielle told the group that the dead boy, Abdul-Ghani Wahhj, would be resurrected as Jesus to tell them which “corrupt” institutions to attack.

Leveille, of Haiti, was in the country illegally and the federal charges are based on her allegedly firing a weapon during training exercises, court documents state. Tuesday morning, the five adults appeared briefly in federal court in Albuquerque. The men wore hats, and the women were in white, gray and black burkas.

Taos District Attorney Donald Gallegos has said he intends to pursue the state child abuse charges against the group anew, before a grand jury in the judicial district that will be seated later this month.

In a heated letter sent Friday and posted on his office’s Facebook page, Gallegos – who has faced criticism for his handling of the compound case, particularly the failure to hold timely preliminary hearings – blasted Attorney General Hector Balderas for a television interview in which he said the D.A.’s office had declined Balderas’ offer to help. “I never ‘declined’ your offer of assistance,” Gallegos wrote.

“I am sorry that you are not happy that you were unable to get national press by entering the case at an early point – as that is what you seem to be concerned about,” he continued. “Well, you are doing a good job of getting press attention by criticizing me and my office now.” He said the AG’s Office had declined to help when asked in other cases. In a response letter, a deputy attorney general wrote there is an active investigation into one of the other cases Gallegos referenced and that Gallegos’ office had never handed off the prosecutions or provided case materials for the others.

Balderas wrote in his own Aug. 31 response letter that he “disagrees with any conclusion other than one that my actions taken with regard to this matter have been to proactively find a solution and respond to the evolving needs of my law enforcement partner.”

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