Siraj Wahhaj was allegedly "conducting weapons training" at the remote Amalia compound and "training children to commit school shootings," prosecutors said

By Elaine Aradillas and Christine Pelisek
August 09, 2018 10:47 AM

At least some of the 11 hungry children found living in “Third World” conditions in a New Mexico compound late last week were being trained to be school shooters, prosecutors alleged in court documents filed Wednesday, according to multiple news outlets.

The startling accusation — one of the few details released so far that could shed light on the inner workings of the group discovered at the remote property on Friday — was reported by the Associated Press.

The AP cited filings from the the Eighth Judicial District Attorney’s Office opposing bail for Siraj Ibn Wahhaj.

According to prosecutors’ allegations in the documents, the AP reports that Wahhaj was “conducting weapons training” at the compound and “was training children to commit school shootings.”

The documents were also obtained by CNN and NBC News but reportedly did not elaborate on this claim beyond quoting a foster parent for one of the kids.

The parent told investigators the accused “trained the child in the use of an assault rifle in preparation for future school shootings,” CNN reported, citing the court filings.

However, an attorney for Wahhaj cast doubt on the alleged school-shooting training and said that he thinks the foster parent’s credibility is in question, according to the AP.

The lawyer, Aleks Kostich, said these allegations were not fully explained. (PEOPLE’s attempts to reach Kostich for comment were unsuccessful.)

Investigators had been tracking Wahhaj for months after he allegedly abducted his son from Georgia in December.

He was eventually traced to the Amalia area, on the northern edge of New Mexico, where he was found with four other adults and the 11 kids, ages 1 to 15, authorities have said.

Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj
| Credit: Clayton County Police Department
Siraj Wahhaj (left) and Lucas Morton
| Credit: Taos County Sheriff's Office

Wahhaj’s missing 4-year-old son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, was not found but, on Monday, the remains of a dead boy were discovered in a chamber in a tunnel on the property.

The body has not yet been identified, pending further testing, though prosecutors believe he is Abdul-Ghani.

“We have a missing child, the child of the defendant,” Donald Gallegos, district attorney for the the Eighth Judicial District, told PEOPLE this week. “He was not one of the [11] children at the residence. We are pretty sure it could be the boy, but we aren’t positive yet.”

“I don’t know if [the remains were] wrapped or placed there,” Gallegos said, but he noted, “it is consistent with a type of ritual burial.”

Wahhaj and the other adults discovered last week are all in custody on various charges, but questions remain about what they were doing in New Mexico. Authorities said the isolated compound was surrounded by tires and an earthen berm and included a buried travel trailer and a tunnel.

The Taos News, citing an affidavit filed by Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe in New Mexico, reports that a 100-foot-long tunnel, about 3-to-4 feet wide, was found on the property and had two “pockets” dug out of it. Another makeshift structure was found near the trailer, built from straw and tries, the paper reports.

Two of the 11 children told a child welfare worker that Abdul-Ghani had been at the compound but “died” after being in “poor health,” the sheriff said in the affidavit.

FBI had surveilled the area during the search for Abdul-Ghani but felt there was not probable cause to enter, Hogrefe said last weekend.

The compound where 16 people were found in Amalia, New Mexico, last week
| Credit: Taos County Sheriff's Office
The compound where 16 people were found in Amalia, New Mexico, last week
| Credit: Taos County Sheriff's Office

Tanya Badger, who owns adjoining land to the compound with her husband, Jason Badger, told local TV station KOB that they think they saw Abdul-Ghani alive in February.

“Something should have been done sooner,” Jason said. “It’s downright pathetic.”

An arrest warrant obtained by PEOPLE shows that Wahhaj was allegedly convinced that his son — who had severe medical issues and was unable to walk — was allegedly “possessed by the devil.”

Abdul-Ghani was reported missing on Dec. 10 after his dad allegedly took him to the park in Clayton County, Georgia, and never returned, according to police. The boy’s mom told officials from the Clayton County Police Department that the boy’s father allegedly intended to “perform an exorcism,” according to the affidavit.

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For months, the Clayton County officials worked with the FBI and Taos County sheriff’s deputies after they learned that Wahhaj and Abdul-Ghani had headed west, having last been seen on Dec. 13 in Alabama.

On Friday morning, deputies entered the isolated compound in Amalia based on the belief that the father and son were living there. Authorities were shocked about what they found instead.

“The only food we saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer,” Taos Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said in a news release last weekend. “But what was most surprising and heartbreaking was when the team located a total of five adults and 11 children that looked like [Third World] country refuges not only with no food or fresh water, but no shoes, personal hygiene and basically dirty rags for clothing.”

The compound where 16 people were found in Amalia, New Mexico, last week
| Credit: Taos County Sheriff's Office
From left: Subhannah Wahha, Jany Leveille and Hujrah Wahhaj
| Credit: Taos County Sheriff's Department/AP/Shutterstock

The five adults — Wahhaj, another man named Lucas Morton and three women believed to be the living kids’ mothers: Jany Leveille, Hujrah Wahhaj and Subhannah Wahh — have each been charged with 11 counts of abuse of a child.

The suspects were previously described by local law enforcement as religious extremists.

They are accused of placing the kids in a life-threatening situation due to “no food, clean water, leaking propane gas, filthy conditions, hazardous wood and broken glass, no hygiene or medical care,” according to a charging affidavit obtained by PEOPLE.

Wahhaj is additionally charged with child abduction and Morton is charged with harboring a fugitive.

The suspects made their first appearance on Wednesday in Taos County’s Magistrate Court, where they pleaded not guilty and continued being held without bond. Attorney information for the accused except Wahhaj was not immediately available.

The 11 children were turned over to the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.

“We all gave the kids our water and what snacks we had,” Sheriff Hogrefe said Saturday. “It was the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen.”