Children found in New Mexico compound were training for school shootings, prosecutors say

2 months 1 week 4 days ago Thursday, August 09 2018 Aug 9, 2018 Thursday, August 09, 2018 8:03:00 AM CDT August 09, 2018 in News
By: Scott McLean, Sara Weisfeldt and Nicole Chavez, CNN

(CNN) -- As authorities work to identify a young boy's remains, they have learned that at least one of the 11 children found on a compound in rural New Mexico was trained to commit school shootings, prosecutors said.

Days after the starving children were rescued, the foster parent of one of them told authorities the suspects "trained the child in the use of an assault rifle in preparation for future school shootings," court documents state.

In court filings, prosecutors only said they believe the children received advance weapons training and did not provide further details.

Leading up to Friday's raid at the compound, a team who surveilled the property in Amalia, New Mexico, had noticed a makeshift shooting range. And when authorities searched the compound, they found an AR-15 rifle, loaded 30-round magazines, four loaded pistols and many rounds of ammo, officials said.

The allegations against the five suspects -- Siraj Wahhaj, his sisters, Hujrah Wahhaj and Subhannah Wahhaj as well as Lucas Morten and Jany Leveille --- come as prosecutors ask a judge to hold them in jail without bail.

If the defendants were to "be released from custody, there is a substantial likelihood defendant may commit new crimes due to his planning and preparation for future school shootings," the court documents said.

Missing child's search unveils horror

Police raided the squalid New Mexico compound on Friday, hoping to find then 3-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj. The young Georgia boy has been missing for more than eight months.

Officers first saw stacks of tires, piles of trash and plastic sheets surrounding a partially buried camper trailer. And shortly, they discovered that five adults along with 11 emaciated children were living there.

The boy's father, Siraj Wahhaj, was arrested there that day but they didn't find Abdul-Ghani.

The boy was last seen leaving his Jonesboro, Georgia, home with his father and it's unclear what happened to him. His mother had said he cannot walk and suffers seizures, and requires constant medical attention.

The remains of a young boy were found at the compound on Monday -- the day of the missing boy's fourth birthday.

Authorities are still working to identify those remains.

Sheriff: Suspects considered 'extremists'

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said authorities were able to get a search warrant after they received a message from what appeared to be someone inside the compound that said "we are starving and need food and water."

"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," Hogrefe said in a news release on Saturday, "so I began working on a search warrant right after I got that intercepted message -- it had to be a search warrant and a tactical approach for our own safety because we had learned the occupants were most likely heavily armed and considered extremist of the Muslim belief."

The sheriff offered no further details, but in a phone interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper on Sunday, Hogrefe said FBI analysts told him the suspects appeared to be "extremist of the Muslim belief."

CNN has reached out to the suspects' public defender for comment.

What's next for the suspects?

The five suspects were each arraigned Wednesday in a Taos, New Mexico, courtroom on 11 counts of child abuse related to the neglect and abuse of the children.

Morten was also charged with harboring a fugitive.

After pleading not guilty on Wednesday, they are expected to appear at a pretrial detention hearing on Monday, according to Aleksandar Kostich, a state public defender.

Family members of the suspects said they didn't know anything of the alleged training for school shootings.

Wahhaj's father, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, a controversial New York imam, has "no knowledge" of the alleged training, his spokesman Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid said.

The older Wahhaj was the first Muslim to offer an opening prayer before the US House of Representatives, the Muslim Alliance in North America said. He was also a character witness for convicted 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Omar Abdel-Rahman.

Mother reported boy missing

Shariyf Muhammad, attorney for Abdul-Ghani's mother, Hakima Ramzi, said she "has no knowledge of any training for school shootings."

Ramzi has not been charged in the case. She reported her son missing to Clayton County, Georgia, authorities in December after the younger Wahhaj took their son to the park and never returned, according to a police report.

"My husband said he was taking Abdul-Ghani to the park, and didn't come back. That was in November 2017. When I would ask him where he was, he said he was on his way, he was coming soon, he was just keeping him for the night. But I haven't seen him since then," Ramzi said Tuesday.

Days after Ramzi reported her son missing, the child's father was involved in an accident in Alabama, according to a police report. The SUV had seven children -- but none of them was listed with Abdul-Ghani's date of birth.

The group told Alabama police they were headed to New Mexico for camping, and continued on their way.

Police initially didn't file a child abduction report because Wahhaj and Ramzi were married; she filed for divorce in December, Clayton County court documents show. But a juvenile court judge in January issued an arrest warrant for Wahhaj for failing to let Ramzi know where he'd taken their son.

The warrant states that Wahhaj "wanted to perform an exorcism" on the child because he believed he was possessed by the devil. But Ramzi said her husband was planning to perform a ruqya -- an Islamic practice involving prayer that is believed to help rid a body of illness.

"It's not an exorcism. That was a translation issue in the court," Ramzi said. He "just wanted to pray for Abdul-Ghani to get better."

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