Man at compound accused of training kids for school attacks
TAOS, N.M. (AP) — A father arrested at a ramshackle New Mexico compound where 11 hungry children were found living in filth was training youngsters to commit school shootings, prosecutors said in court documents obtained Wednesday.
The allegations against Siraj Ibn Wahhaj came to light as authorities awaited word on whether human remains discovered at the site were those of his missing son, who is severely disabled and went missing in December in Jonesboro, Georgia, near Atlanta.
The documents say Wahhaj was conducting weapons training with assault rifles at the compound on the outskirts of Amalia, a tiny town near the Colorado border marked by scattered homes and sagebrush.
“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,” Prosecutor Timothy Hasson wrote in the court documents Wednesday.
Authorities raided the compound Friday in an investigation that has yielded a series of startling revelations — including the discovery of the 11 children in rags and word that Wahhaj wanted to perform an exorcism on his son because he thought the boy was possessed by the devil.
Prosecutor Timothy Hasson filed the court documents while asking that Wahhaj be held without bail after he was arrested last week with four other adults at the compound facing child abuse charges.
Prosecutors did not bring up the school shooting accusation during initial court hearings Wednesday for the abuse suspects. A judge ordered them all held without bond pending further proceedings.
In the court documents, authorities said a foster parent of one of the children removed from the compound had told authorities the child had been trained to use an assault rifle in preparation for a school shooting.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe previously said adults at the compound were “considered extremist of the Muslim belief.” He did not elaborate, saying it was part of the investigation.
Aleks Kostich of the Taos County Public Defender’s Office questioned the accusation of a school shooting conspiracy, saying the claim was presented with little information beyond the explanation that it came from a foster parent.
Kostich believes prosecutors are not certain about the credibility of the foster parent, whom he has no way of reaching to verify the claim, he said.
The human remains were being analyzed by medical examiners to determine if they are those of Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, the missing boy.
Earlier this year, his grandfather, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, posted a plea on Facebook for help finding his grandson.
The elder Wahhaj heads the Masjid At-Taqwa in Brooklyn, a mosque that has attracted radical speakers over the years. He met Mahmud Abouhalima when he came to the site to raise money for Muslims in Afghanistan. Abouhalima later helped bomb the World Trade Center in 1993.
In a Georgia arrest warrant, authorities said 39-year-old Siraj Ibn Wahhaj had told his son’s mother that he wanted to perform an exorcism on the child. He later said he was taking the child to a park and didn’t return.
He is accused in Georgia of kidnapping the boy.
The arrest warrant issued there says the missing boy has a condition caused by lack of oxygen and blood flow around the time of birth. He cannot walk and requires constant attention, his mother told police.
For months, neighbors worried about the squalid compound built along the remote New Mexico plain, saying they took their concerns to authorities long before sheriff’s officials raided the facility described as a small camping trailer in the ground.
The search at the compound came amid a two-month investigation that included the FBI. Hogrefe said federal agents surveilled the area a few weeks ago but did not find probable cause to search the property.
That changed when Georgia detectives forwarded a message to the sheriff that he said initially had been sent to a third party, saying: “We are starving and need food and water.”
Authorities found what Hogrefe called “the saddest living conditions and poverty” he has seen in 30 years in law enforcement. He said Wahhaj was armed with multiple firearms, including an assault rifle. But he was taken into custody without incident.
The group arrived in Amalia in December, with enough money to buy groceries and construction supplies, according to Tyler Anderson, a 41-year-old auto mechanic who lives nearby.
He said he helped them install solar panels after they arrived but eventually stopped visiting.
Anderson said he met both of the men in the group, but never the women, who authorities have said are the mothers of the 11 children, ages 1 to 15.
“We just figured they were doing what we were doing, getting a piece of land and getting off the grid,” Anderson said.
As the months passed, he said he stopped seeing the smaller children playing in the area and didn’t hear guns being fired at a shooting range on the property.
Jason Badger, who owned the property where the compound was built, said he and his wife had pressed authorities to remove the group after becoming concerned about the children.
The group had built the compound on their acreage instead of a neighboring tract owned by Lucas Morton, one of the men arrested during the raid.
However, a judge dismissed an eviction notice filed by Badger against Morton in June, court records said. The records did not provide further details on the judge’s decision.
After the raid, Anderson looked over the property for the first time in months.
“I was flabbergasted from what it had turned into from the last time I saw it,” he said.
Hudetz reported from Albuquerque. Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Atlanta, and Russell Contreras in Albuqerque, N.M., contributed to this report.