Susana Martinez, the Republican governor of New Mexico, is upset by a judge’s decision to grant bond to five suspects with Atlanta ties accused of using a desert compound to train their children for violence.
“Unfortunately, it highlights how extreme the New Mexico Supreme Court has been in dictating pretrial release for all kinds of dangerous criminals,” she said in a statement.
Judge Sarah Backus, who was initially appointed to the bench by the same governor in 2011, granted each of the five suspects a $20,000 bond after a Monday hearing. She added the condition that they wear an ankle monitor until they get stable housing in the county.
The five adults are each charged with 11 counts of child cruelty. They are related and all are using Atlanta addresses. They must remain in Taos County, New Mexico while awaiting trial.
New Mexico officials took 11 children away from the compound after it was raided on Aug. 3. The adults inside the compound will be allowed only supervised visits with their children.
Authorities allege the group holds “extremist” Muslim views and were training the children to use high-powered firearms to commit violence.
Attorneys for the adults arrested portrayed them as misunderstood people who might be seen differently if they were white Christians instead of black Muslims.
The body of a 12th child was found at the New Mexico compound Aug. 6. While a positive identification has not been made, it’s believed to be the remains of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, a 3-year-old Clayton County boy. Authorities said his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, took him from his mother in late November, telling her they were just going to a park.
Because he’s wanted in Clayton County in the missing child case, Wahhaj won’t be allowed to bond out of the New Mexico jail.
As of Tuesday morning, all the defendants remained in custody, a jail worker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Jason Badger, who said the group set up its compound on his property, was taken aback by the bond decision announced late Monday. He called it “stupidity.”
“Plain and simple,” he told the AJC.
At least one of the other children told authorities the boy who died in the compound died during a religious ritual intended to rid him of his ailments.
After his death, the other children were told by adults that he would return as Jesus and tell them which corrupt institutions to “get rid of,” an FBI agent testified.
Prosecutors suggested if the body is the 3-year-old from Clayton County, the child could’ve died because he wasn’t receiving medical treatment. He suffered from seizures.
The judge said the testimony at the hearing was “troubling” but not enough to convince her the adults were a danger to the community. She also noted that, as far as the court was aware, none of the defendants have a criminal history.
Wahhaj is the son of the well-known New York City imam also named Siraj Wahhaj, who has said he doesn’t understand why the group chose to suddenly leave family and head to the desert. Two of the other suspects are the imam’s daughters.
Ali Abdul-Karim Judan, a spokesman for imam’s Brooklyn mosque, posted a video on Facebook after the bond hearing, raising questions about the state’s case.
“We have cases with American citizens who are Christians who refuse to take their children or people to the doctor,” he said. “I’m not justifying what happened in this case. I’m saying let’s look at the case in the totality. As I’ve been saying all along, this is a domestic case. It has nothing to do with any kind of extreme radical groups.”
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj’s attorney, Tom Clark, said even if the group had anti-government views, that doesn’t mean they held radical religious beliefs or were plotting an attack.
“As of right now, there is no evidence that these kids were being trained to do anything except protect their compound,” Clark told the AJC. “These people just happen to be black and Muslim.”
Clark said he expected the other four suspects to be released from jail Tuesday because the bonds granted are signature bonds, which won’t require them to put up any money.
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