Taos compound suspects indicted
Taos County Sheriff’s Office deputies and other officials search a compound north of Amalia near the Colorado border. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal file)
Last summer, New Mexico garnered national attention when five men and women were found living with their 11 children in a filthy makeshift compound outfitted with guns and ammunition on a barren site north of Taos.
On Wednesday, those five men and women were indicted on federal terrorism charges, including allegations they were planning to kill FBI employees, government officials and military personnel. Prosecutors also say the crew was actively trying to recruit others to join them and “die as martyrs.”
It is the first time the terrorism-related charges have been filed in New Mexico.
The superseding indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Albuquerque charges Jany Leveille, 36, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, Hujrah Wahhaj, 38, Subhanah Wahhaj, 36, and Lucas Morton, 41, with providing material support to terrorists, conspiracy to murder an officer or employee of the United States, kidnapping, possessing a firearm while unlawfully in the United States, and other charges.
“The indictment alleges that the defendants conspired to provide material support in preparation for violent attacks against federal law enforcement officers and members of the military,” Assistant Attorney General John Demers wrote in a news release. “Advancing beliefs through terror and violence has no place in America, and the National Security Division continues to make protecting against terrorism its top priority.”
All five remain incarcerated.
Leveille, a native of Haiti, was in the country illegally and had previously been indicted on the federal charge of possession of firearms by a person illegally in the United States. The other four defendants had been federally charged with conspiracy to give her firearms.
Their attorneys said they were still conferring with their clients and didn’t wish to comment at this time.
A Muslim army?
The case first came to light in early August when the Taos County Sheriff’s Office announced it had stormed a ramshackle compound in Amalia, near the Colorado border, looking for a disabled 3-year-old boy who had been abducted from Georgia.
Taos compound suspects from left, Lucas Morton, Siraj Wahhaj, Subhannah Wahha, Jany Leveille and Hujrah Wahhaj.
They arrested the boy’s father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, and the four other adults. Their 11 children, ages 1 to 15, were placed in the custody of the state’s Children, Youth and Families Department.
Three-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj was found dead and buried in a tunnel a couple of days later. He had reportedly suffered from Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, or HIE, a condition that caused severe seizures and required medication, which he was apparently not given.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, Subhanah Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj are siblings and their father is a prominent imam at the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj is married to Leveille, and Subhanah Wahhaj is married to Morton. Subhanah Wahhaj’s name is spelled Subhannah Wahhaj in state court documents.
The five adults initially faced child abuse and other charges in state court, but the case was dismissed due to missed deadlines. Federal authorities picked up the case in late August and re-arrested the group on federal charges.
The case quickly took hold of the nation’s imagination, and news outlets traveled to Taos from around the country as reports emerged that the group was made up of “Muslim extremists” who wanted to form an army to conduct “jihad.”
Safety a priority
According to the superseding indictment filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico on Wednesday, the adults were gathering weapons and ammunition, and maintaining a training camp to prepare for attacks on the government, military and other institutions.
Prosecutors with the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section wrote that, “In or about December 2017, in the District of Georgia, Jany Leveille and Lucas Morton solicited one of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj’s relatives to join the occupants of the training compound in the state of New Mexico, to bring money and firearms, and to die as a martyr.”
They also say that from October 2017 onward, “Jany Leveille, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Lucas Morton, and others known and unknown to the grand jury, knowingly did conspire, combine, confederate, agree, and act interdependently with each other to attack and kill officers and employees of the United States.”
“It was a part and an object of the conspiracy that Jany Leveille, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Lucas Morton would kill officers and employees of the United States, to wit, Federal Bureau of Investigation employees, government officials, and military personnel,” prosecutors wrote.
The Albuquerque division of the FBI investigated the case with the help of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Taos County Sheriff’s Office, and the Eighth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
The compound was without running water or a drainage system, and was formed from wood pallets, tires, a rickety camper, plastic tarps and sections of adobe. Court documents state that a firing range was on one side of the property.
Authorities found 11 firearms, 500 rounds of ammunition, a bulletproof vest and other firearm accessories, according to the indictment. They also say they found a manual giving instructions on how to perform a terrorist attack and fight hand to hand.
“During this lengthy and complex investigation, the safety of the community as well as that of the children at the Amalia compound has been our priority,” James Langenberg, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Albuquerque Division, wrote in the news release. “Cases such as these sometimes take a while, but the FBI will never give up until justice is done.”