TAOS COUNTY, N.M. - What started out as a search for a young child taken by his non-custodial father in Georgia has turned into accusations of a homegrown terrorist camp in New Mexico.
Documents obtained by FOX 5 News give a better outline of the timeline of events from the reported abduction of then 3-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj to accusations the boy’s father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, was training children for mass shootings at schools.
Clayton County Police said on December 1, 2017, the boy’s father picked him up from his mother’s home and never returned. On Dec. 22 FOX 5 News reported the 3-year-old’s disappearance.
Police later indicated the toddler’s father was involved in an early morning crash in Alabama on Dec. 13, 2017. Authorities said the father and son were traveling with seven others, including five children and two adults. Police said the group was traveling in a 2006 Ford box truck with Delaware tags belonging to Lucas Allen Morton. According to authorities, Morton, who was among the adults in the group, was arrested at the New Mexico compound this past weekend. At the time of the crash, they told Alabama officers they were headed to New Mexico for a camping trip.
Newly released documents reveal Alabama investigators found several weapons and a bullet-proof vest inside the same box truck during the crash in December. That discovery influenced to hold off approaching the compound without a special team.
On May 15, a police bulletin was received by New Mexico officials discussing the disappearance. That bulletin described the now 4-year-old's struggles with Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalophy, which occurs when an infant’s brains lack a sufficient blood and oxygen. The condition requires medication, something his mother told police she was worried he was not receiving. She said HIE caused the boy to have a limp and suffer from seizures. Documents released this week indicate the young boy's father had expressed interest in performing an exorcism on the boy.
Investigators soon discovered what they believed to be the location of Wahhaj in Costilla, New Mexico. The community is about 145 miles northeast of Albuquerque, in an isolated high-desert area near the New Mexico-Colorado border. Residents told authorities they frequently saw a man and boy in a white box truck matching Wahhaj’s description. Neighbors said they often heard gunfire coming from the property.
Investigators tracked down the owner of the property and discovered Wahhaj and relative Lucas Mortensen had mistakenly built their compound on the owner’s property. Court records indicate the Jason Badger filed an eviction notice but later had it dismissed and told investigators he was working with Wahhaj to trade his property with Wahhaj's adjacently owned property.
The FBI stated they flew surveillance over the property. Documents state the agents spotted men, women and several children including one child walking with a limp.
The documents show the FBI warned area law enforcement not to approach the compound alone -- citing the weapons discovered during the December 2017 traffic stop in Alabama.
On Aug. 2, Clayton County Police shared new electronic communications sent from the compound with investigators in New Mexico. According to investigators, the texts asked for help and indicated the family was "starving and needed money and food." Authorities believed the situation was dire and decided it was time to obtain a search warrant and move in on the compound.
The next morning, the Taos County Sheriff's Office, with the help of state and federal authorities, a special response team to raid the property mobilized to move in on the compound. The sheriff said the force was necessary because the residents in the compound were considered extremists of the Islamic faith. Investigators said they found Wahhaj living in a filthy trailer described as some of the worst conditions they've ever seen. In addition to Wahhaj, 11 children, ranging in age from 1 to 15, were taken into protective custody, another man and three women were arrested.
Missing 4-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj was not found.
Court documents described the horrifying conditions in the compound:
"The property is best described as a compound surrounded in part with an earthen berm and old tires stacked up around it, with open trenches and pits, with numerous trip hazards and wood with nails sticking up and broken glass and bottles litter around the grounds -- overall this is readily identifiable and hazardous with extremely filthy living conditions which greatly resemble that of what could be considered "third world country in nature" with odorous trash everywhere, no clean water, no electricity, no plumbing/sewer, and children were not clean, without shoes and without proper hygiene, and rags for clothes."
Authorities also documented a leaking propane value near the small camper trailer that was partially buried.
Also found was a firing range at the compound and a series of loaded firearms where children could easily reach them and. Those firearms included a Bushmaster AR-15 with 9 loaded magazines and sling, a Glock 26 .9mm with 3 loaded magazines, a Kimber .9mm with 3 loaded magazines, a Smith and Wesson .38, a Ruger .357, and a Springfield XD 40 with 2 loaded magazines. A green vest was also found.
Other than a few potatoes and a box of rice, there was little food in the compound and deputies believe the children had not eaten in days. Investigators also believe the children had no medical care. Authorities believe the group had lived in the compound for a least two months.
Wahhaj, 40, along with Morton, 40, and his wife Subhanah, 35, Jany Leveille, 35, Hujrah Wahhaj, 38, were all charged with 11 counts of abuse of a child.
Wahhaj was also booked on his no bond warrant for child abduction out of Clayton County. Morten was also charged with harboring a fugitive.
Aug. 7, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said they found the remains of a young boy the previous morning on the property. The sheriff said they turned the remains over to the Office of Medical Investigations for an autopsy and to determine the child's identity.
Despite the find, Clayton County Police remained hopeful that young Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj would be found alive.
Wednesday, other court documents prosecutors believe Wahhaj was training children to commit school shootings. Those allegations were not brought up in court during the initial appearance by the abuse suspects.
Wahhaj did not enter a plea on the child abuse charges. Prosecutors asked he be held in jail until trial. The judge said a bond hearing will take place within the next five days.
The other four entered not guilty pleas and are scheduled to have bond hearings on Monday.
Meanwhile, other documents identify Wahhaj as the son a controversial New York City imam linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His father was named by prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in the attack.
The medical examiner’s office in New Mexico has not indicated when the autopsy report or identification of the remains will be released.
Additional charges are expected and a possible extradition hearing for Wahhaj, but those have not yet been announced.