Horrifying details emerged on Wednesday in the case of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, the son of an imam linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, who was arrested in New Mexico on charges of keeping 11 starving children in a filthy compound. According to court documents filed by prosecutors, Wahhaj was training the children to carry out school shootings.
Prosecutors asked the judge to hold Wahhaj without bond for felony child abuse. He is also the subject of an extradition warrant from Georgia on charges of kidnapping his own son from the state in December. His son was not among the starving children rescued from the compound. There are fears the remains of an as-yet unidentified child found at the compound could be Wahhaj’s son.
Prosecutors said on Wednesday that Wahhaj and four accomplices possessed an AR-15 rifle and four pistols with ample ammunition and were training the children to commit school shootings.
Wahhaj’s father, who was born under the name Jeffrey Kearse but now also uses the name “Siraj Wahhaj,” is an imam in New York who was an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He served as a character witness in the trial of mastermind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the “Blind Sheikh.”
The New York Post reported on Monday that the elder Wahhaj is currently the head of the Majid at-Taqwa mosque in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The other defendants in the compound case are the younger Siraj Wahhaj’s wife, his two sisters, and his brother-in-law.
The Post quoted a January Facebook post from the elder Wahhaj that implied his son, the other co-conspirators, and a total of 12 of his grandchildren had gone missing and were “traveling together.”
The 11 living children rescued from the compound, plus the child’s remains that were recovered, would add up to 12 kids. The missing boy, named Abdul-Ghani, was 3 years old at the time his mother said her husband Siraj Wahhaj abducted him from Georgia; Monday marked his fourth birthday.
The warrant filed in Georgia stated that Wahhaj planned to perform an “exorcism” on the boy, who suffered from hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, had chronic seizures, and was unable to walk on his own.
The boy’s mother, Hakima Ramzi, clarified on Tuesday that the procedure her husband had in mind was an Islamic prayer ritual called “ruqya” that was intended to purge her son of illness.
“It’s not an exorcism. That was a translation issue in the court,” she said, insisting Wahhaj “just wanted to pray for Abdul-Ghani to get better.”
“Reps at the Masjid At-Taqwa said the imam was not in Monday afternoon, and he did not respond to messages seeking comment,” the NYP reported.
Police raided the compound when someone, presumably one of the children, was able to send a message saying, “We are starving and need food and water.” The compound in New Mexico was a partially-buried recreational vehicle surrounded by a wall of tires and a mound of garbage.
The local sheriff said the children were clad in rags and “looked like Third World country refugees.” He said their living conditions were the “ugliest looking” and “filthiest” he had ever seen. The property reportedly had no clean water, no hygienic products, and no food except “a few potatoes and a box of rice.”
The sheriff described the occupants of the compound as “heavily armed and considered extremists of the Muslim belief,” although few details about their specific beliefs have been released to the public, beyond the situation Hakima Ramzi described with respect to her son.
On the other hand, a neighbor of the group in New Mexico described them to the local Taos News as “the most kindest people I’ve ever met in my life,” and said he saw no indications the children were being mistreated.
Taos News reported Wahhaj and his group were involved in a traffic accident in Alabama in December. Two other adults and five children were riding in a box truck with Wahhaj at the time. The group told Alabama police they were “traveling to New Mexico for a camping trip.”
In June, a landlord-tenant restitution case was filed against the owner of the box truck, Lucas Allen Morton of Atlanta, Georgia. Taos News reported that a truck matching that description was parked on the grounds of the compound in New Mexico. The New York Post stated that Morton is one of the four other individuals arrested at the compound and is married to Wahhaj’s sister Sabhanah.