By Andrew Hay
TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – A 3-year-old boy whose remains were found buried at a New Mexico desert compound died during a ritual to “cast out demonic spirits,” other children living there told investigators, a prosecutor said in court on Monday.
Authorities found the remains at a ramshackle compound north of Taos where 11 other children were found alive but malnourished in a raid on the site 10 days ago.
The prosecutor said during a court hearing for five adults arrested on charges of abusing the 11 children that they had been trained to use weapons and defend the compound in the event of an FBI raid. The hearing was to ask the judge to deny bail to the suspects.
The adults, including three women who police said were the mothers of the 11 children, were charged with 11 counts of felony child abuse. Prosecutors said at the time of the arrests that Lucas Morton, Subhannah Wahhaj, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and the other women were training the children to use firearms to commit school shootings.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 39 and the son a prominent New York-based Muslim cleric, was also charged in the alleged abduction of his son Abdul Ghani from his mother’s Atlanta home last December.
A cross-country search for the missing boy and his father led investigators to the 10-acre compound on the outskirts of the community of Amalia near the Colorado border.
The children, ranging from 1 to 15 years of age, were clothed in rags and starving when they were found on Aug. 3, authorities said. The remains of a young boy, believed to be Abdul-Ghani, were found buried at the site three days later.
Authorities encountered Ibn Wahhaj, Leveille and seven of the children last December when they were in a traffic accident in Georgia and police found weapons in the vehicle, including pistols, an AR-15 rifle and ammunition magazines, Taos County Prosecutor John Lovelace said.
According to Lovelace, Ibn Wahhaj told police at the time that he had the guns because he worked for an executive security business and that he was going on a camping trip in New Mexico.
In describing what the children said about the death of Abdul Ghani Wahhaj, Lovelace said, “It was a religious ritual carried out on Abdul Ghani, a ritual intended to cast out demonic spirits from Abdul Ghani Wahhaj.”
During Monday’s hearing, Taos County prosecutor Timothy Hasson said that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj had sent his brother a letter that was “an invitation to come to the compound and pursue his intent to become a martyr.”
He added, “In the 21st century I think we all know what that means.”
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis Editing by Robert Birsel and Tom Brown)
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