TAOS, N.M. — A state judge on Monday cleared the way for five defendants who were arrested on child abuse charges at a remote New Mexico compound to be released pending trial despite authorities’ suspicions that the group was training children to use firearms for an anti-government mission.
Judge Sarah Backus set a $20,000 bond for each defendant and ordered that the two men and three women wear ankle monitors, have weekly contact with their attorneys, not consume alcohol and have no firearms.
Police raided the property — a squalid makeshift living compound near the Colorado state line — more than a week ago in response a report of children living in filth, severe hunger and dangers including a leaky propone tank. Five adults were arrested and 11 children were placed in state custody.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj provided some of the children with firearms training — including tactical skills such as “speed loading” guns and firing while in motion. Aside from some rifles, handguns and ammunition, authorities say they found books on being effective in combat and building untraceable assault-style rifles.
Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors were unfairly painting their clients as armed militants as the rifles and handguns found on the property are common guns that can be bought at retail stores and their clients made no aggressive efforts to defend their compound as authorities closed in to serve search warrants earlier this month.
“There was no gun battle, there was no resistance,” said Tom Clark, the attorney representing Siraj Ibn Wahhaj.
Clark said his client had permits to carry his weapons and no criminal record — accusing prosecutors of holding adults at the compound to an unusual standard because of their race and Muslim faith.
“They are black and they are Muslim,” Clark said. “If these were white people of Christian faith who owned guns, it’s not a big deal. … But they look different and they worship different than the rest of us.”
Prosecutors denied any discriminatory treatment based on religious background or race, and warned that the defendants came to New Mexico with their children on a violent and dangerous mission.
“This was not a camping trip and this was not a simple homestead of the kind that many people do in New Mexico,” said Deputy District Attorney Timothy Hasson.
Judge Backus said prosecutors failed to articulate any specific threats or plan against the community, despite providing concerning information.
“What I’ve heard here today is troubling, definitely. Troubling facts about numerous children in far from ideal circumstances and individuals who are living in a very unconventional way,” Backus said.
Despite the release terms, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj is likely to remain in jail pending a warrant for his arrest in Georgia on accusations that he abducted his own son, Abdul-ghani, from the boy’s mother in December and fled to New Mexico. The four other defendants — Jany Leveille, Lucas Morton, Subhannah Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj — may be released on house arrest as soon as Tuesday.
Family members say the remains of a boy found at the compound last week are those of Wahhaj’s disabled son, though state medical examiners have not yet identified the body conclusively. Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe testified Monday that the remains of a young boy were found inside tunnels that had been dug from inside the compound to an opening 100 feet (30 meters) away.
Testimony from an FBI agent shed some new light on the fate of the disabled child Abdul-ghani.
Agent Travis Taylor described interviews with two children from the compound, ages 13 and 15, after they were taken into protective custody by the state.
The 15-year-old described attempts to cast demonic spirits from Abdul-ghani’s body through a ritual that involved reading passages from the Quran while Siraj Ibn Wahhaj held a hand on the boy’s forehead, and that Abdul-ghani apparently died after one of the sessions, Taylor said.
He said the children were told that Abdul-ghani would be resurrected as Jesus and “would instruct others on the property about what corrupt institutions to get rid of,” in reference to financial and government institutions that might include schools.