A three-year-old boy found buried at a New Mexico desert compound died in a ritual to 'cast out demonic spirits,' but his extended family believed he would 'return as Jesus' to identify 'corrupt' targets for them to attack, prosecutors said on Monday.
The little boy's father Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, along with one of his wives Jany Leveille, his sister Subhannah Wahhaj and her husband Lucas Morton, and his other sister, Hujrah Wahhaj, are accused of training children at the camp to use firearms 'to commit school shootings.'
They are each charged with 11 counts of felony child abuse.
Despite the serious charges, on Monday, the five suspects were granted $20,000 bond each.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has already spoken out, saying she 'strongly disagreed' with the hearing's outcome and Backus's decision, Kob reports.
'Unfortunately, it highlights how extreme the New Mexico Supreme Court has been in dictating pretrial release for all kinds of dangerous criminals,' she said.
While the judge granted all the suspects bond, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj is likely to remain in jail pending a warrant for his arrest in Georgia on accusations that he abducted his disabled three-year-old son, Abdul-ghani, from the boy's mother in Atlanta, in December and fled to New Mexico.
A body, believed to be Abdul-ghani's, was found buried in the desert near the compound shortly after the August 3 raid.
The four other defendants may be released on house arrest as soon as Tuesday.
Judge Sarah Backus said she wasn't convinced the suspects were a danger to the community and granted them bail to be released from jail, on condition they wear an ankle monitor and that they have only supervised visits with their children.
Meanwhile, horrifying new details emerged about the death of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj.
The court heard that the toddler was taken by his father, who originally claimed he was taking his son to the park.
In fact, he was taking him for an exorcism.
Prosecutors say Abdul-ghani died amid a ritualistic religious ceremony intended to 'cast out demonic spirits.'
FBI agent Travis Taylor testified saying that Abdul-ghani, who suffered from seizures, would sometimes foam at the mouth.
'During these rituals, per witness statements, the victim, Abdul (Ghani Wahhaj) would begin to choke and have white foam or slime come from his mouth and then pass out,' Taylor said.
Public defenders claim the boy's father was trying to heal the child with the ceremony, which they claim included reading passages from the Quran and placing his hand on the boy's head.
But prosecutors claimed he was denying the boy medication.
The children were told that Abdul-Ghani 'would become Jesus' when his demons were exorcised.
Once he was resurrected, he would guide them and help them choose which targets to attack, a boy at the compound told investigators.
'They were awaiting for Abdul-Ghani to be resurrected to let them know which government institutions to get rid of,' Taos County Prosecutor John Lovelace said in arguing that bail should be denied for all five defendants.
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.
Photos captured filthy scenes from inside the ramshackle site, with trailers covered in clear tarp and what appears to be a collection of tents, held up shakily by plywood pillars, from above.
Underneath it and inside the few trailers there are piles of trash, dusty furniture and discarded toys.
The children found there, aged one to 15, were all in rags and starved.
Police have not yet confirmed the three-year-old found in the desert is Abdul-ghani, because the state of the remains are so badly decomposed, but the boy's grandfather has confirmed it is Abdul-ghani.
During Monday's hearing, 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.'
Authorities encountered Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, Leveille and seven of the children last December when they were in a traffic accident, and police found weapons in the vehicle, including pistols, an AR-15 rifle and ammunition magazines, Lovelace said.
According to Lovelace, 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.
Police then raided the property - a squalid makeshift living compound near the Colorado state line - more than a week ago in response a report of children living in filth, severe hunger and dangers including a leaky propone tank. Five adults were arrested and 11 children were placed in state custody.
Cops found rifles, handguns and ammunition, as well as books on being effective in combat and building untraceable assault-style rifles.
Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors were unfairly painting their clients as armed militants as the rifles and handguns found on the property are common guns that can be bought at retail stores and their clients made no aggressive efforts to defend their compound as authorities closed in to serve search warrants earlier this month.
'There was no gun battle, there was no resistance,' said Tom Clark, the attorney representing Siraj Ibn Wahhaj.
Clark said his client had permits to carry his weapons and no criminal record - accusing prosecutors of holding adults at the compound to an unusual standard because of their race and Muslim faith.
'They are black and they are Muslim,' Clark said. 'If these were white people of Christian faith who owned guns, it's not a big deal. ... But they look different and they worship different than the rest of us.'
Prosecutors denied any discriminatory treatment based on religious background or race, and warned that the defendants came to New Mexico with their children on a violent and dangerous mission.
'This was not a camping trip and this was not a simple homestead of the kind that many people do in New Mexico,' said Deputy District Attorney Timothy Hasson.
Judge Backus said prosecutors failed to articulate any specific threats or plan against the community, despite providing concerning information.
'What I've heard here today is troubling, definitely. Troubling facts about numerous children in far from ideal circumstances and individuals who are living in a very unconventional way,' Backus said.
The first wife of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj said she is struggling to come to terms what her husband allegedly did to their son.
Hakima Ramzi said the last time she'd seen her little boy, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, three, was when her husband Siraj Ibn Wahhaj had offered to take him for a trip to the park in 2017.
Ramzi had been working with detectives and search crews to find her son but was devastated when authorities found the skeletal remains of a child in her husband's training compound northeast of Amalia, New Mexico, where they discovered 11 starving children and five Muslim adults.
'They took my life,' Ramzi said, breaking down in tears during a very emotional interview Thursday with Channel 2 Action News.
'I wasn't able to save my son, to save his life.'
Attorney and family friend Shariyf Muhammad said Ramzi was struggling to come to terms with what her husband had done.
'She's having a very hard time right now,' they said. 'Hakima is a mother whose son has been missing for nine months and she has gone through every range of emotion from anger to sadness to despair to helplessness to fear, anxiety and a desire for revenge.'
'I think this has been mischaracterized as a custody battle because it's been reported that he 'took the child.' But they were married, they're still married although he chose to estrange himself by his actions.
'Hakima told us, 'He told me he was taking Abdul-Ghani to the park for a little while.' She had no reason to think any different.'
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.