A woman who believed her husband’s dead toddler would be reincarnated as Jesus to attack “corrupt institutions” like banks and schools apparently spurred the creation of a fortified compound in northern New Mexico, prosecutors said Monday.
The discovery of the toddler’s body in a 100-foot-long hand-dug dirt tunnel beneath the compound built by the Muslim group sent shockwaves through the rural area, where five adults are accused of raising 11 other kids in filthy, dangerous conditions, surrounded by loaded rifles and handguns.
Police suggested the group were Muslim extremists preparing an attack by teaching the older kids how to shoot and reload at their homemade firing range. Defense attorneys say the group members who built the compound in Amalia, New Mexico, were simply exercising their Constitutional rights to possess firearms and freely practice their religion.
Prosecutors revealed new details about their case during a bond hearing in Taos County District Court to determine whether the five should be detained indefinitely or allowed to post bond before standing trial on child abuse charges.
Judge Sarah Backus later ruled each adult could be released if they can post bond and agree to adhere to strict conditions. Backus said prosecutors failed to show the group posed an immediate danger, despite the toddler’s death amidst what she called deplorable conditions.
“Each of the five defendants is collectively responsible for building this compound . . . and keeping this child hidden from his mother and the police,” prosecutor Tim Hasson argued.
Police and prosecutors say the group was led by Jany Leveille, 35, who believed the boy would be reincarnated to attack banks, schools and government agencies, an FBI agent testified.
Police took the 11 kids into protective custody from the compound after an Aug. 3 raid that ended with the arrests of Leveille, her husband, his two sisters and another man. Leveille’s husband, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, is separately accused of kidnapping his son, Abdul Ghani, 3, from his former wife in Georgia late last year and fleeing across state lines.
Police say the other children told them Abdul Ghani died sometime this spring following a seizure. Because he was already wanted on a Georgia kidnapping warrant, Wahhaj may be kept in custody instead of being released with his family members.
According to police, Wahhaj’s former wife gave birth to the Abdul Ghani several years ago, but Leveille believed he was actually her child.
Adbul Ghani suffered from chronic illness and seizures, and in pleading for his return, his mother in December warned he would die if not given medical treatment. Instead of medical treatment, after kidnapping the boy and taking him to New Mexico, Wahhaj read Quran verses to the toddler while laying his hand on his forehead as the boy had seizures and foamed at the mouth, police said.
“Jany had a message from God that they needed to leave and head to New Mexico and that Abdul Wahhaj, once the demons were expelled from his body through religious rituals, that he would become Jesus and once he became Jesus he would instruct the others on the property, the family, what corrupt institutions to get rid of,” testified FBI agent Travis Taylor, who interviewed two of the oldest children.
In addition to Suraj Wahhaj and his wife Leveille, police arrested Hujrah Wahhaj, 38 and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35, who are Wahhaj’s sisters, and Lucas Morton, who is married to Subhannah Wahhaj. During Monday’s hearing, the three women wore white hijabs over their jail uniforms, and the two men wore white skullcaps. All were shackled during the four-hour court hearing, and at times several of the women appeared to wipe away tears.
The Wahhajs’ father is Imam Siraj Wahhaj, a prominent cleric from the Masjid At Taqwa, a well-known mosque in Brooklyn. He said in a Facebook broadcast that he had no idea why his children had fled to New Mexico, but hoped to gain custody of his grandchildren.
Prosecutors described the New Mexico group as heavily armed fanatics prepared to do battle with anyone who arrived, explaining how they built protective tire walls to stymie any attacks, and kept loaded rifles and pistols at the ready. The group inadvertently built its compound on a neighbor’s property but then refused his efforts to move them.
Defense attorneys say the group isn’t significantly different than any other religious group seeking solitude and a chance to worship in the way of their choosing. What prosecutors painted as a bizarre ritual to heal Abdul Ghani is no different than a Christian holding a Bible while praying over a sick relative, they argued.
Defense attorneys also countered that the firearms were all both common and legally purchased, and that teaching teens to shoot and handle guns safely is not only prudent but normal in New Mexico. They also pointed out that none of the armed adults offered significant resistance during the SWAT raid, and that many people build similar dirt or tire walls to block the weather in that part of the state.
The judge said the adults could have contact with their kids, who are in state custody, as long as they don’t discuss the case with them.
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