An extremist Muslim father, his wife and two sisters, who were arrested at a compound in New Mexico along with 11 starving children, made their first court appearance Wednesday.
Siraj Wahhaj, 39, wife Jany Leveille, and Hujrah and Subhannah Wahhaj were pictured in the dock as prosecutors accused them of training the children to carry out mass school shootings.
Also in court was Lucas Morton, Wahhaj’s brother-in-law and Subhanah’s husband. Each pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of felony child abuse, while Morton was also charged with harboring a fugitive.
Morton appeared wearing a white towel folded on his head styled like a keffiyeh.
Siraj was also charged with abducting his 3-year-old son ‘AG’ from his home in Atlanta last December, sparking a manhunt which led police to the compound.
Lucas Morton, the husband of Subhannah, also appeared in court with his head covered with a towel, apparently folded in a style resembling a plain white keffiyeh
Siraj Wahhaj, 39 (left and right), was pictured during his first court appearance on Wednesday when he was accused of training 11 children to carry out school shootings
Also in court was Wahhaj’s wife, Jany Leveille, who is believed to be the mother of some of the children and was charged with 11 felony counts of child abuse
Hujrah Wahhaj also appeared in court on Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to child abuse
Subhannah Wahhaj (left and right), Hujrah’s sister, appeared in court alongside her husband Lucas Morton (not pictured). She denied 11 counts of child abuse, while Morton was also charged with harboring a fugitive
Skeletal remains found at the compound are believed to belong to the boy, who was disabled and required daily medication, though tests are still confirming this.
In petitions seeking to detain all five suspects without bail, prosecutors said each was under investigation in the boy’s death.
Police earlier said that Siraj was heavily armed with an AR-15 rifle and four pistols when he was arrested, and that there was a shooting range inside the compound.
The children, aged between 1 and 15, were found in a filthy state, had likely not eaten in days, and had loaded firearms within their reach.
In court documents filed on Wednesday, prosecutors claimed Wahhaj was using the weapons to train the children to perform mass school shootings.
Wahhaj was also charged with abducting his three-year-old son from his Atlanta home last December. It is thought the boy is dead
It is not yet clear if they had set out a specific plan targeting any one school or if the practice was general. The compound is close to the Colorado border.
No weapons charges were filed in the case.
The FBI had been watching the compound for months after being led to it in their hunt for three-year-old AG Wahhaj, Siraj’s disabled son who vanished with in December.
Their explanation for not raiding it is that they did not have a warrant because AG was never physically seen there.
Aleksandar Kostich, a public defender representing the five adults, said the identical wording of the allegations about weapons training in each petition suggested that prosecutors were less than certain about the information they were given.
A man who identified himself to reporters as Gerard Jabril Abdulwali, 64, of Alexandria escorts, Egypt, and the father of Morton, attended the court hearing, during which he shouted, “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.”
He told reporters afterward that was in the United States for medical reasons and had not heard from his son for over a year but then received a text message from Morton last Thursday that said “they were starving.”
Weapons found at the compound in New Mexico where Wahhaj was training 11 children to carry out school shootings, according to the prosecution
Abdulwali said his son and the other suspects were “peaceful adult settlers.”
“They were homesteading and were trying to establish a peaceful community, a peaceful life away from society,” he said. “They just went about it the wrong way.”
Neighbors have told how they heard shooting coming from within the compound over the last few months.
Photographs taken on the compound on Tuesday show what looks like a make-shift target practice range
The compound is in the desert in New Mexico. It was put together with trailers and the children had been there for months
One man who lives nearby says the 11 children initially showed up near his plot of land to play with his kids but that they stopped coming several weeks ago.
Tyler Anderson is a 41-year-old auto mechanic who lives near the site.
He has told how the Wahhaj family arrived in the desert in December with enough money to buy groceries and construction tools to build their home.
Anderson helped them set up solar panels and the children in the Wahhaj family played with his at first but he started seeing them less and less.
We just figured they were doing what we were doing, getting a piece of land and getting off the grid
Neighbor Tyler Anderson
He was aware of a target practice area set up on the compound and said he often heard shots coming from the property but that it stopped recently.
‘We just figured they were doing what we were doing, getting a piece of land and getting off the grid,’ he said.
Lucas Morton, who is married to Subhanah Wahhaj, one of the sisters, owns the tract of land where the family was based and started building their compound.
The man who owns the patch next to it, however, says they started encroaching on his acreage as the compound grew bigger.
He appealed to the courts to have them convicted for the breach but nothing was done.
‘I started to try and kick them off about three months ago and everything I tried to do kept getting knocked down,’ he said on Tuesday.
Sisters Subhanah Wahhaj, 35, (left) and Hujrah Wahhaj, 38, (right) were arrested on Sunday
Jany Leveille, who also goes by the name Maryam, was also arrested for child abuse on Sunday. Wahhaj’s brother-in-law, Lucas Morton, (right) was also taken in to custody
The children were aged between one and 15 and all are related. They were taken into government care on Friday after they were discovered.
They had not eaten in days and were filthy. They escaped after a message from the inside, either written by them or one of their mothers, was intercepted by police.
It said: ‘We are starving and we need food and water.’
The new details were shared on Wednesday as prosecutors pleaded with a judge not to grant Wahhaj bail.
At present, he stands accused of child abduction and neglect.
Police are yet to file charges relating to the discovery of remains of a boy on the compound.
They have also not yet confirmed whether the remains belong to Wahhaj’s disabled three-year-old son AG who he vanished with in December.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Taos County Sheriff Jeffrey Hogrefe fought back tears as he described the grim discovery.
‘We discovered the remains yesterday on Abdul’s fourth birthday,’ he said.
The compound is near Amalia, in the desert of northern New Mexico, is close to the Colorado border
Another photgraph taken at the site on Tuesday as investigators continue working at the scene. Despite landowners’ efforts to remove the family, they remained there for months
The conditions inside the compound were described by police as the worst they had seen in 30 years after they found the children on Friday. There was no running water or food and the children all had terrible personal hygiene
Wahhaj, who is the son of a prominent New York City imam Siraj Wahhaj reportedly planned to perform an exorcism on the toddler who he thought was ‘possessed’.
They went missing from Georgia, where the family lived, in December.
AG’s mother has been pleading for his safe return ever since.
Also arrested at the compound on Friday were the man’s sisters, Hujrah and Subhanah Wahhaj, and his wife, Jany Leveille.
All three women, who police described at first as being ‘brainwashed and intimidated’ by the man, were charged with child abuse on Sunday.
Also charged was Lucas Morton, Subhanah’s husband. He is charged with harboring a fugitive.
The children’s grandfather is Imam Siraj Wahhaj, the leader of the Muslim Alliance of North America and the leader of a mosque in Brooklyn (left). Three-year-old AG (right), who has hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and requires daily medication, has been missing since December and was not found Friday. Remains found at the property are yet to be identified