When a 3-year-old Clayton County boy died in a ritual in the northern New Mexico desert, the other children there were allegedly told he would come back to life as Jesus and tell them who to kill.
That’s among the jarring allegations leveled Monday by prosecutors, who are accusing the child’s father and four other adults of setting up a squalid isolated compound and plotting violence. Police raided the property in Taos County on Aug. 3 and say they have evidence the occupants were Muslim extremists training their children to become killers with high-powered weapons.
Authorities initially went to the compound looking for Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, who is accused of taking his son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, from the child’s mother in late November after claiming he was taking the boy to a Jonesboro-area park. A month earlier, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj made a trip to Saudi Arabia and came home wanting to stop his son’s medicine and perform rituals to rid him of “demonic spirits,” the father’s family told authorities. The child suffered from brain damage caused during birth, as well as seizures.
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The father and son had apparently arrived at the compound in January, along with four adult relatives and 11 of their children. The adults are each charged with 11 counts of child cruelty (none relating to Abdul-Ghani) and were in court for a bond hearing, which was streamed online by Albuquerque news station KOB4.
Judge Sarah Backus said the testimony was troubling, but she wasn’t convinced the suspects were a danger to the community. She granted each $20,000 bond to be released from jail, with the conditions that they wear an ankle monitor until they get stable housing in the county and have only supervised visits with their children.
One of the children told an FBI agent the boy would foam at the mouth during the rituals, which consisted of the father reading from the Quran and placing a hand on the boy’s head. The agent said the rituals began before the dad left Georgia and continued in New Mexico at the urging of another of the compound’s occupants, Jany Leveille.
Leveille is the “Islamic wife” of Wahhaj and believed that she was originally supposed to be the toddler’s mother, according to FBI agent Travis Taylor.
Taylor testified that Leveille believed Wahhaj’s legal wife in Georgia used “black magic” to steal the child from Leveille’s womb.
During the final ritual on Abdul-Ghani, his heart stopped, the agent said. Leveille allegedly said she believed the child had already been dead and was only still animated because he was possessed by demons.
After his death, the boy was washed, prayed over, wrapped in a sheet and placed in a tunnel near the camp.
At least one child told authorities that the adults led them to believe Abdul-Ghani would come back as Jesus and instruct them on what “corrupt institutions they needed to get rid of,” authorities said. The institutions were expected to include teachers, law enforcement and the military.
When police searched the site, they allegedly found a shooting range and a number of firearms, as well as a document with instructions about how to build an untraceable AR-15. Some guns were in the tunnel. Prosecutors said Siraj Ibn Wahhaj had also taken extensive firearms training in Georgia.
While the group was at the compound, relatives and friends were trying to locate them, including Wahhaj’s father, the well-known New York City imam also named Siraj Wahhaj. The father has said something must have gone wrong mentally for the group to cut ties suddenly and travel to west. In addition to his namesake, the group includes two of the imam’s daughters and his son-in-law.
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Siraj Ibn Wahhaj’s brother, Muhammad, received a letter from someone at the compound (authorities aren’t sure who wrote it) instructing him to bring all his money and weapons to the site, prosecutor Timothy Hasson said. The letter said not to tell his father.
“Allah says he will protect you always,” the letter reportedly said in part, “so follow until he makes you a martyr.”
That martyrdom, Hasson said, was supposed to come after Muhammad joined the group in New Mexico.
Further details about the trip to Saudi Arabia weren’t revealed. Hasson conceded that countless Muslims make the hajj pilgrimage to the country, which could be a logical explanation for the trip.
“The evidence as a whole says this family was on a mission, a dangerous one and a violent one,” the prosecutor said.