An extremist Muslim man, who was arrested at a family compound in New Mexico where 11 starving children were found, was “training them to commit school shootings” and had even installed a target practice range. After Siraj Wahhaj, 39, of New York City was arrested at a compound in Amalia, New Mexico, on Friday, prosecutors say he was providing firearms training to the children. Authorities raided the property after intercepting a message intended for someone else outside which said the children were starving.
The children, ages one to 15, are related. They are now in government custody. They had not eaten for several days when a message, either written by them or one of their mothers, was intercepted by police.
Wahhaj is the son of a prominent Muslim prayer leader New York City. The elder Imam Siraj Wahhaj is the leader of the Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA). MANA describes itself as a “national network of masjids [mosques], Muslim organizations and individuals committed to work together to address certain urgent needs within the Muslim community.” In 1995, U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White named Imam Wahhaj as a possible co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. In addition, some of Wahhaj’s Al-Taqwa mosque congregants were charged and convicted of providing material support to Muslim terrorists leading up to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Wahhaj testified in court on behalf of each of them. Wahhaj's ideology is encapsulated in his statement ““If only Muslims were clever politically, they could take over the United States and replace its constitutional government with a caliphate.” The general secretary of MANA is Ihsan Bagby, who was on the board of the Council on American Islamic Relations, which has some times been identified as a front group for the Muslim Brotherhood. Bagby has also served as an official at the Islamic Society of North America, which has also been associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
The younger Wahhaj had fled in December from Clayton County, Georgia, vanishing along with his three-year-old disabled son, Abdul Ghani. The boy's mother reported it as an abduction. The boy was not among the 11 children rescued on Friday. Abdul suffers from hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy: a brain injury that requires daily medication. The corpse of a child found near the compound is believed to be the missing boy, but has not been positively identified.
In an emotional press conference on Tuesday, a tearful Taos County Sheriff Jeffrey Hogrefe described the discovery of a child's corpse. "We discovered the remains yesterday on Abdul's fourth birthday," he said. Law officers said that they found at the compound the worst evidence of abuse they had seen in 30 years. The compound, which consisted of connected trailers and jerry-built components, lacked food and running water. The children were described as exhibiting very poor personal hygiene and had not eaten in days.
In addition to Wahhaj, law officers arrested the mothers of the 11 kids and Wahhaj’s brother-in-law.
When Wahhaj was arrested, he was found in possession of an AR-15 style rifle and four pistols. On Wednesday, prosecutors filed court documents allegedly that Wahhaj was training the children to perform mass school shootings. So far, it is not clear whether the Muslim group had a plan for targeting a specific school. The FBI had been monitoring the compound near the Colorado border as part of a hunt for the missing son of Wahhaj. The FBI claimed that it had not conducted a raid on its own because it had no physical evidence that the missing boy was there.
Neighbors described hearing gunfire over the last few months. The children of the compound used to play with neighbors but stopped showing up several weeks ago. A man who lived nearby said he helped Wahhaj to set up solar panels, believing that they wanted to live off the grid. The Wahhaj clan began to encroach on the neighbor’s land, but a local court reportedly did nothing to address the invasion of private property.
Subhanah Wahhaj,35, Hujrah Wahhaj, 38, and Jany Leveille (Maryam) were arrested on Sunday and charged with child abuse. Lucas Morton, who is married to Subhanah, owns the tract of land where the family was based.
The children were aged between one and 15 and all are related. They were taken into government care on Friday after they were discovered.
Sheriff Hogrefe said that after receiving the message from inside that the children were “starving”, he had to take action despite the FBI’s reluctance to make a move. "I absolutely knew that we couldn't wait on another agency to step up and we had to go check this out as soon as possible, so I began working on a search warrant right after I got that intercepted message," Hogrefe said. The FBI did not yet have probable cause to conduct its own raid.
Because of concerns that the residents of the compound were believed to be “heavily armed and considered extremist of the Muslim belief," Hogrefe said, "We also knew from the layout of the compound they would have an advantage if we didn't deploy tactfully and quickly." The compound was ringed with tires and other debris as barriers and had 150-foot tunnel and a ladder that led out into a neighboring property.