NM Compound: Religious Escape or Planning Mayhem?

What on earth is going on with the compound, the suspects, and the investigators?

Once it was a missing child case involving a severely disabled Georgia boy, but in August the case involving three-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj took a tragic turn when the boy’s body was discovered at a rural New Mexico camp described as a “compound.”

Living at the compound was 40-year-old Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, the boy’s father and son of a Brooklyn-based imam, also named Siraj Wahhaj — best known as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The boy was his grandson, and the elder Wahhaj had turned to social media in an effort to shame his son and other members of his family to return the boy; instead they all traveled to New Mexico with little Abdul. In all, five adults and 11 children ranging in age from one to 15 were living at the rural settlement. (While the imam Wahhaj is the father of several of the adult suspects, he’s not accused of any involvement.)

Shortly before the discovery of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj’s body, the five adults were all arrested on charges of felony child abuse, based on an intercepted message from one of the children complaining “we are starving and need food and water.” Others detained were Hujrah and Subhannah Wahhaj, two of the younger Siraj’s sisters, Subhannah’s husband Lucas Morton, and Wahhaj’s current wife.

However, reports have indicated that 35-year-old Jany Leveille, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj’s wife — but not the mother of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj — provided the impetus behind building the New Mexico compound, which was actually situated adjacent to land owned by Lucas Morton. (The ramshackle dwelling was built on property belonging to neighbor Jason Badger, who had unsuccessfully sought their eviction in June.) When authorities secured a search warrant for the Ibn Wahhaj premises last month, they found an old recreational vehicle surrounded by broken glass-topped mud walls, stacked tires, and equipped with a makeshift firing range. They also found the child’s body in a 100-foot long hand-built tunnel. But the story was only beginning, and getting even more strange.

First was the legal tug-of-war between the state’s attempts to keep the five members in custody and local judges. It began when Taos County District Judge Sarah Backus — described as “an elected Democrat” — set the defendants’ bond at just $20,000 apiece on the felony child-abuse charges, eventually allowing them release on the conditions that they wear ankle bracelets, stay away from the compound, and only visit the children with supervision. Public outrage didn’t change her decision, but it led to death threats against her and the temporary lockdown of the Taos County courthouse.

A few days later, fellow District Judge Emilio Chavez freed the two Wahhaj sisters and Morton, ruling the state had violated a 10-day time limit on scheduling a preliminary hearing. District Judge Jeff McElroy did the same for the other two, but they remained in custody on other counts. While Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Jany Leveille were in custody, Taos County had formalized charges of abuse of a child resulting in its death and conspiracy to commit abuse to a child. So Leveille reverted from the custody of ICE as an illegal alien who arrived from Haiti over a decade ago back to county custody. This came in the nick of time, as the state of Georgia opted not to seek extradition on the kidnapping count, which would have allowed Siraj Ibn Wahhaj to walk away.

To make sure the group stayed put, in stepped the FBI, which just last week slapped Leveille with a charge of possessing firearms while in the country illegally and named the other four adults as accomplices. It appears the charges are a holding tactic as state and federal prosecutors build their cases for the kidnapping and negligent homicide of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj as well as the alleged terrorist threats made by the group.

On the latter front, in the month since this story percolated into the news cycle a great deal has been learned about the mindset of the adults arrested and bizarre goings-on at the site. The FBI charging document alleges that Leveille believed, among other things, that Abdul-Ghani was her child until he was stolen out of her womb by “black magic” perpetrated by Hakima Ramzi, Ibn Wahhaj’s first wife and Abdul-Ghani’s birth mother. To combat this, Ibn Wahhaj kidnapped the child and they performed rituals at the site in their belief it would rid him of the demons that were causing his medical issues. Upon the three-year-old’s death, they were convinced he would return as Jesus Christ and advise them on “corrupt institutions to get rid of.”

It was also learned by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which has doggedly remained on the case, that among the “corrupt institutions” was the city’s Grady Memorial Hospital, which made the hit list “due to treatment [Leveille] and her mother received there.” The AJC further reported the FBI revealed “the couple also planned to ‘shoot or otherwise attack’ people they failed to persuade with their ‘message.’”

The AJC also added, “In the [FBI] complaint, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, Leveille’s Islamic husband, is accused of speaking about Jihad and starting an army to kill in Allah’s name, with Leveille working to recruit others. It also says Siraj Ibn Wahhaj was well-trained in a variety of militaristic practices, including with firearms and with hand-to-hand combat. He allegedly called himself ‘The Messenger,’ and Leveille is accused of believing she was interpreting messages from above, documenting them in journals that authorities found on the site.”

Defenders of the group, including Leveille’s brother Von Chelet Leveille and longtime acquaintance of both generations of Wahhaj’s family Tariq Abdur Rashid, contend these allegations have innocent explanations. Von Chelet claims his sister was not a purveyor of “black magic,” although “she, like many Muslims, does believe black magic exists and doesn’t support it.” He also stated his belief the weapons training of the children was “legal and innocent.” Rashid disagrees with Von Chelet’s insistence that his sister did not partake in black magic, and believes Ibn Wahhaj was attempting to perform an Islamic ritual called ruqya in an effort to purge the evil spirits out of Abdul-Ghani’s body. “With sincere thinking, he could be sincerely wrong, which he was,” said Rashid.

But Von Chelet Leveille was made aware through his speaking daily with Jany that his sister’s family had placed the child’s body in the tunnel, with the intention to check on it periodically to see if it had come back to life as they believed it would.

All this is a story that nearly seems fictional, even to a cynical world like ours that has as one of its tripwires a sensitivity to all things Islamic. Our Jordan Candler has spoken up about that part of it, as has commentator Matt Walsh, who notes, “You would expect [this story] to be the lead on every news broadcast and the top story on every news website. … But it is not attracting that level of interest from practically anyone.” On the other hand, “If the terrorists were Christian fundamentalists or white supremacists, you can bet the reaction would be quite a bit more explosive.”

“A terrorist training camp for school shooters is being treated like an obscure, largely irrelevant news item,” Walsh concludes. “And this treatment is due solely to the demographics of the suspects.”

So imagine if there were no kidnapped child who died thanks to a lack of medical care and prescribed medications. What if these five adults had managed to keep the other 11 children isolated from the world for another few months or a couple years, until the oldest was 17 or 18? Would that eldest child have come back to Atlanta and loosed a hail of damage on unsuspecting targets, with several others waiting in the wings to be the same sort of child terrorists occasionally used as perpetrators against Americans and other westerners in the Long War?

“Experiences from across the globe demonstrate that children can make effective combatants and often operate with unexpected and terrifying audacity, particularly when infused with religious or political fervor,” wrote Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution in 2003. While he was referring at the time to Saddam Hussein’s regular use of child soldiers, perhaps the intention of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and his “family” was to move the battlefield to our shore. Maybe it’s a case of “like father, like son.”

It’s a story that should be followed much more closely than it has.

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