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Children at compound were training for school shootings, prosecutors say

Posted at 12:26 PM, Aug 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-09 12:26:16-04

AMALIA, New Mexico — As authorities work to identify the remains of a boy found on a rural New Mexico compound, they’ve learned that at least one of 11 other children rescued there was trained to commit school shootings, prosecutors said.

After the children were discovered last week — and five adults accused of abusing them were arrested — one of the kids told a foster parent that the suspects “trained the child in the use of an assault rifle in preparation for future school shootings,” said court documents filed Wednesday.

Authorities raided the compound near rural Amalia on Friday, finding the 11 emaciated children and arresting two men and three women, after what started as an investigation into one of the men’s alleged abduction of his son in Georgia.

That boy — Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj — was not among those 11 children, but authorities discovered as yet-unidentified remains of a young male at the compound Monday.

In court filings, prosecutors said they believe the children were taken to New Mexico to receive advanced weapons training. The documents didn’t reveal further details about the alleged training.

But in previous court documents, authorities described seeing a makeshift shooting range on the property that included two main dwelling areas — a partially buried camper trailer surrounded in part by trenches and old tires — and a parked utility truck.

Investigators also found an AR-15 rifle, loaded 30-round magazines, four loaded pistols and many rounds of ammo, officials said.

Prosecutors on Wednesday asked a judge to have the five suspects — Abdul-Ghani’s father, Siraj Wahhaj; the man’s sisters, Hujrah Wahhaj and Subhannah Wahhaj; Lucas Morten; and Jany Leveille — held in jail without bail.

If they were to be released, there is a substantial likelihood the defendants may commit new crimes due to their planning and preparation for future school shootings, the court documents said.

Missing child’s search unveils horror

Police raided the squalid New Mexico compound on Friday, hoping to find Abdul-Ghani. His mother in Georgia says he has been missing for more than eight months.

The boy was last seen leaving his Jonesboro, Georgia, home with his father in late November, and it’s unclear what happened to him. His mother had said he cannot walk and suffers seizures, and requires constant medical attention.

The remains of a boy were found at the compound Monday — the day of the missing child’s fourth birthday.

Sheriff: Suspects considered ‘extremists’

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said authorities got a warrant to search the property last week after they received a message from what appeared to be someone inside the compound that said “we are starving and need food and water.”

“I absolutely knew that we couldn’t wait on another agency to step up and we had to go check this out as soon as possible,” Hogrefe said in a news release Saturday, “so I began working on a search warrant right after I got that intercepted message — it had to be a search warrant and a tactical approach for our own safety because we had learned the occupants were most likely heavily armed and considered extremist of the Muslim belief.”

The sheriff did not elaborate. Later, in a phone interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper on Sunday, Hogrefe said FBI analysts told him the suspects appeared to be “extremist of the Muslim belief.”

CNN has reached out to the suspects’ public defender for comment. The FBI declined to comment.

What’s next for the suspects?

The five suspects were each arraigned Wednesday in a Taos courtroom on 11 counts of child abuse related to the neglect and abuse of the children.

Morten was also charged with harboring a fugitive, Siraj Wahhaj, on suspicion of knowing that he was committing custodial interference with Abdul-Ghani.

The suspects pleaded not guilty and are expected to appear at a pretrial detention hearing Monday, according to Aleksandar Kostich, a state public defender.

Family members of the suspects said they didn’t know anything of the alleged training for school shootings.

Wahhaj’s father, Siraj Wahhaj, a controversial New York imam, has “no knowledge” of the alleged training, said his spokesman, Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid.

The elder Wahhaj was the first Muslim to offer an opening prayer before the US House of Representatives, the Muslim Alliance in North America said. He was also a character witness for convicted 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Omar Abdel-Rahman.

Mother reported boy missing

Shariyf Muhammad, attorney for Abdul-Ghani’s mother, Hakima Ramzi, said she “has no knowledge of any training for school shootings.”

Ramzi has not been charged in the case. She reported her son missing to Clayton County, Georgia, authorities in December after the younger Wahhaj took their son to a park and never returned, according to a police report.

“My husband said he was taking Abdul-Ghani to the park, and didn’t come back. That was in November 2017. When I would ask him where he was, he said he was on his way, he was coming soon, he was just keeping him for the night. But I haven’t seen him since then,” Ramzi said Tuesday.

Days after Ramzi reported her son missing, the child’s father was involved in an accident in Alabama, according to a police report. The SUV was carrying seven children — but none of them was listed with Abdul-Ghani’s date of birth.

The group told Alabama police they were headed to New Mexico for camping, and continued on their way.

Police initially didn’t file a child abduction report because Wahhaj and Ramzi were married; she filed for divorce in December, Clayton County court documents show. But a juvenile court judge in January issued an arrest warrant for Wahhaj for failing to let Ramzi know where he’d taken their son.

The warrant states that Wahhaj “wanted to perform an exorcism” on the child because he believed he was possessed by the devil. But Ramzi said her husband was planning to perform a ruqya — an Islamic practice involving prayer that is believed to help rid a body of illness.

“It’s not an exorcism. That was a translation issue in the court,” Ramzi said. He “just wanted to pray for Abdul-Ghani to get better.”