Amalia compound

Amalia defendant served with divorce papers at Taos County jail

Family believes remains found belong to missing boy; no official ID from state investigators yet

Posted

One of five defendants who was allegedly training a child to carry out school shootings at a compound in Northern New Mexico was served with divorce papers at the Taos County jail Friday (Aug. 10).

Members of the Taos County Sheriff's Office delivered the papers to Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, on his eighth day of incarceration at the Taos County Adult Detention Center, where his four co-defendants are also housed.

Wahhaj is in a jail pod separate from co-defendant Lucas Morton, also 40, according to a local source who met with them. The three women also arrested at the compound – Jany Leveille, 35, Hujrah Wahhaj, 38, and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35 – are being held in a pod with other women at the jail.

All five adults have been charged with 11 counts of child abuse related to living conditions investigators say they found at the makeshift dwelling in Amalia.

According to Latifa Weinman, a local Muslim who visited with the defendants at the jail earlier this week, Subhannah Wahhaj is Siraj Ibn Wahhaj's sister and Leveille is his other wife. Weinman said Hujrah Wahhaj is married to Morton and is also Siraj's sister.

The five defendants were allegedly living with the children, whose ages range from 1 to 15-years-old, at a crude home they had built near the Colorado border. The compound included a buried trailer surrounded by a wall of tires and mud walls topped with broken glass.

Investigators who raided the residence using a no-knock search warrant last Friday (Aug. 3) said they also found a shooting range, multiple firearms, ammunition and conditions they argue were dangerous or even deadly to the children who lived there. Underground, investigators also found a 100-foot tunnel.

Sheriff Hogrefe, whose team had surveilled the property for about two months before they raided it last week, emphasized on Friday that no other such compound has been located in New Mexico.

A Georgia woman, Hakima Ramzi, who is also married to Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, filed for divorce in December 2017 after her husband allegedly kidnapped their 3-year-old son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj. She reported the child missing later that month. The couple was married for 15 years, Ramzi said in a Facebook video in January.

"I just want my son back," Ramzi pleaded in the video. "I need nothing from you."

Ramzi said her son suffered from seizures and walked with a limp. She explained that the boy required special medication two times a day to control the seizures.

But her son was not among the 11 children taken into protective custody a week ago.

Investigators unearthed the remains of a small boy on Monday (Aug. 6), the missing boy's fourth birthday. The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, however, has yet to identify the remains and may require additional time due to the body's decomposition. In a statement issued Thursday (Aug. 9), a spokesperson for OMI said a DNA test may even be necessary to make a positive identification, which could take a few weeks to complete.

But the boy's family already seems certain the remains are those of Abdul-Ghani. 

A close relative asked for prayers for the grieving mother on Facebook. A Go Fund Me account that was set up in January to help Ramzi look for her son had been converted to a place for people to contribute for his funeral.

At a news conference Thursday (Aug. 9), the child's grandfather, well-known Brooklyn Imam Siraj Wahhaj, said he is certain the body is his missing grandson. The grandfather is a highly-regarded figure in the Muslim world. 

He is also controversial. The imam was included on a federal list as one of the "unindicted co-conspirators" in the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, but no link was ever definitively established.

At the press conference, the imam addressed the allegations of extremism that have been levied at his son, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj. Imam Wahhaj said his son can be "a little bit extreme" in the video, but quickly clarified his son is not a violent person and is "not radical."

"This doesn't seem like them," the imam says on the video, referencing the entire group who lived at the New Mexico compound.

Numerous efforts made by The Taos News to reach the imam have gone unanswered.

Hakima Ramzi recently clarified the wording in a Georgia arrest warrant that had said Siraj Ibn Wahhaj believed their son was "possessed" and intended to perform an "exorcism" on him. Speaking with CNN, she explained this as an interpretation issue in court. She said her husband actually intended to perform a "ruqya," an Islamic prayer ritual meant to remedy illness. Directly translated, the Arabic word means to "chant or recite divine words."

That ritual is mentioned in a text investigators found at the Amalia compound during their search. The book, titled "Sword Against Black Magic & Evil Magicians," goes into detail as to how it is performed.

Weinman and her husband, Michael Abd Al-hayy Weinman, are continuing to meet with the defendants at the jail. During a visit this week, they spoke to the five over a telephone, separated from the defendants by a panel of glass.

"They were a bit reserved about what they said," Al-Hayy said, "but I found them to be lovely people."

He said the accused have received religious accommodations. Contrary to typical jail policy, the women are dressed in flowing white shawls. The men are dressed in the standard blue Taos County jail uniforms. Morton appeared for his arraignment Wednesday (Aug. 8) with a headscarf.

Wienman and Al-Hayy don't know what really happened at the compound, but they said it's customary for fellow Muslims to care for one another.

Hajj, the traditional Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Islamic holy city in Saudi Arabia, begins Aug. 19. They hope the defendants will be allowed to participate in the traditional celebration when it ends later this month.

Comments