Court filings in the case of Muslim extremist Siraj Wahhaj and four accomplices, arrested Friday at a squalid New Mexico compound where 11 starving children were being trained to attack schools with firearms, reveal the rescued children have identified the remains of a child recovered from the site as the body of Wahhaj’s three-year-old son Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj.
Siraj Wahhaj is wanted in Georgia for kidnapping his son late last year. According to the boy’s mother, Wahhaj intended to perform a Muslim prayer ritual that would cure the Abdul-Ghani’s severe neurological condition.
CNN reported on Thursday that at least two of the rescued children have identified the remains of the child discovered at the compound are those of Abdul-Ghani, who died there and was buried by defendant Lucas Allen Morton, who is married to Siraj Wahhaj’s sister Sabhanah.
New York imam Siraj Wahhaj, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, also said on Thursday he was informed by other family members that the remains discovered in New Mexico were those of his grandson Abdul-Ghani.
The day the remains were discovered would have been Abdul-Ghani’s fourth birthday.
Both the elder Siraj Wahhaj and Abdul-Ghani’s mother Hakima Ramzi, the latter speaking through her lawyer, said they had no knowledge of the training for school shootings given to the children at the compound.
“I am feeling a lot of emotions in so many ways. We want to find out what happened,” the elder Siraj Wahhaj said at a press conference on Thursday.
CNN’s reporting offers conflicting stories from New Mexico police and imam Sirraj Wahhaj about how the horror at the compound was discovered. The police said they received a message from someone inside the compound, while Wahhaj told reporters one of his daughters who was living at the compound sent a message about starvation to a third party and asked for supplies. The elder Wahhaj said he contacted the authorities when he was made aware of this message and triggered the raid.
“To me, obviously something happened – mental disorder, or something. This doesn’t seem like them,” the imam said of his son and two daughters who were involved in the compound.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that the FBI had the compound in Taos, New Mexico under surveillance for the past several months, but did not share information with the local sheriff, leaving him unaware that a wanted fugitive was present at the site:
The group arrived in the desert area in December, according to neighbors. Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said the FBI had put the place under surveillance in recent months that included photographs of the compound and interviews.
He said the images were shared with the mother of Abdul-ghani, but she did not spot her son, and the photographs never indicated the father was at the compound, leaving the sheriff without the information he needed to obtain a search warrant.
The Washington Post quoted Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe saying the FBI “did not feel there was probable cause to search the property.” The detail that federal investigators were sharing photos with Abdul-ghani’s mother suggests they were investigating his kidnapping, which makes it seem odd that they could find no probable cause to conduct a search.
Perhaps Sirraj Wahhaj was able to conceal his presence with remarkable efficacy. CNN’s report on Thursday suggests Morten was the primary contact with neighbors in New Mexico:
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a neighbor of the compound told CNN about exchanging texts with Morten in recent months.
The texts, which CNN is unable to verify independently, appear to show Morten asking for supplies, and asserting that, under “God’s orders” he could drive only from dusk until dawn.
“Good morning Big guy! Can i give u some gas cans and cash could uy hook me up. … Please and thanks in advance,” reads one of texts to the neighbor, sent on April 26.
“Hey Bud I got $50 towards gas or whatever so my wife can ride along with your wife to get some groceries,” reads another, sent on the same day.
A man named Tyler Anderson who lived near the compound said he helped the group install solar panels soon after they arrived at the end of 2017. “We just figured they were doing what we were doing, getting a piece of land and getting off the grid,” he said.
The identities of the 11 children rescued from the compound have not been revealed, but the Washington Post offered some clues by recounting an “unfolding family drama” on Facebook in December and January:
Facebook posts and public messages dating to December revealed an unfolding family drama, and relatives’ growing concern that Abdul-Ghani and the other children who had disappeared could be in trouble. In January, a Facebook account of Naeemah Rashid, who said she is the imam’s daughter-in-law, posted a picture of other children around the missing poster for Abdul-Ghani.
“I wanted to take the time now to make sure we also focus on praying for the other children as well, because of their parents making these choices it’s going to affect these children as well,” she wrote. “AND AGAIN THE FATHER (SIRAJ IBN) AND SON (ABDUL GHANI) WAS THE ONLY ONES REPORTED AS MISSING TO THE POLICE, BUT THEY ARE LIKELY TO BE TRAVELING TOGETHER WITH ALL IN THE PICTURE BELOW.”
Subhannah maintained her Facebook page, but left no clues and blocked her relatives, shortly after posting a January rebuttal to the cry for help that had appeared on her father’s page.
“Deception and lies!” she wrote. “Be careful what you believe. And be careful who you believe. The truth will come to light. Don’t worry everyone. I am safe and well.”
The compound was located on property owned by a couple named Tanya and Jason Badger, who said they were unaware of its presence until they investigated and encountered Siraj Wahhaj and an unidentified little boy. Wahhaj and his accomplices apparently built their compound on the Badger’s land by mistake, having purchased an adjacent piece of property for their purpose.
The Badgers said they attempted to work out a land swap but Wahhaj was unable to come up with the funds necessary to complete it. The couple said they informed Wahhaj and his group they were squatters and asked them to leave, but the group refused. The Badgers eventually notified the sheriff’s department and filed an eviction notice, which was dismissed from court for unclear reasons.
This detail makes it even more curious that the FBI had the property under surveillance but took no action, given that Siraj Wahhaj was the primary suspect in the abduction of his son and the Badgers had contact with law enforcement after discovering he was there. In fact, the Badgers said they believe they spotted little Abdul-Ghani at the compound in January and February and notified the authorities in both New Mexico and Georgia accordingly.
Forensics experts said it could take several weeks to definitively identify the remains of the child recovered from the compound.