Judge Releases Suspects From Alleged Child Terrorist Training Camp
Albuquerque, NM – A state judge set a $20,000 signature bond for each of the five Islamic militants who had been training future school shooters at a remote compound in the New Mexico desert.
A signature bond is only a promise to show up for court, and the suspects don't have to pay any money to be released.
Critics have said that Judge Sarah Backus, an elected Democrat, has a history of issuing low bail to violent offenders, FOX News reported.
On Tuesday, Backus said the state had failed to meet the burden of showing that the suspects were a danger to the community, despite several hours of testimony that included evidence about a dead child and tactical firearms training for the 11 children who resided there, KOB reported.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe testified Monday that while they were serving the warrant at the remote compound, the tactical team found children holding boxes of ammo, and at least one child was armed, KOB reported.
Authorities said the compound first came to their attention after somebody living inside sent a plea for help to a Clayton County detective, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
“We are starving and need food and water,” the note read.
Police had also received tips that a missing three-year-old boy from Georgia might be hidden on the property, and on Aug. 3, authorities entered the compound to search for him.
They found 11 starving and abused children ranging in age from one to 15, all being held at the remote location, NBC News reported. The missing boy was not among the children found in the compound.
But police did find the remains of a deceased child on the property, and believe it was the body of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj’s missing son Abdul-Ghani, who would have turned four years old on Monday. However, the identity of the remains has not yet been confirmed by authorities.
The 11 children found on the property were removed into the custody of child protective services and put into foster homes.
A foster parent who is taking care of one of the children told Taos County authorities that the child said that Wahhaj "had trained the child in the use of an assault rifle in preparation for future school shootings,” according to NBC News.
Police first became involved when Wahhaj allegedly took his son from Georgia in December of 2017 because he wanted to perform an exorcism on him.
The boy’s mother told police that Wahhaj thought his son was possessed by the devil, NBC News reported.
According to a warrant, Abdul-Ghani suffered from seizures and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, a birth defect caused by lack of oxygen and blood flow, and also could not walk.
Wahhaj told the boy’s mother he was taking his son to the park and never brought him back home, according to an extradition warrant that has been filed with the court by Clayton County, Georgia authorities.
In court on Monday, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent Travis Taylor testified that the two teens who had been rescued from the compound had said Wahhaj would lead rituals that were focused on his son and included reading from the Quran, KOB reported.
"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," Agent Taylor said.
He said the children were led to believe that the sick child "would become Jesus" when his demons were exorcised. According to KOB, Wahhaj told them that once his son "became Jesus," he would tell the occupants of the compound which corrupt institutions to get rid of.
The last known sighting of the little boy was on Dec. 13, 2017, when Wahhaj was involved in a single-vehicle car accident in Chilton County, Alabama.
There were six children and three adults total in the vehicle when it crashed, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Wahhaj told responding officers that the group was headed to New Mexico on a camping trip.
Police arrested a total of five adults at the squalid northern New Mexico compound. None of the adults found at the property revealed Abdul-Ghani’s location to authorities.
Lucas Allen Morton, Jany Leveille, Hujrah Wahhaj, and Subhannah Wahhaj were all believed to be related to Wahhaj, although it wasn’t clear exactly what the relationship was, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The two women who were arrested are believed to be the mothers of the 11 abused children who were rescued from the property.
“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 during the hearing, FOX News reported.
But the evidence prosecutors presented on Aug. 13 wasn’t “troubling” enough to convince Backus to keep the five adults who had been arrested at the compound in custody.
She put them on house arrest wearing ankle monitors and ordered them not to leave the country, KOB reported.
Backus also said visitation with the children should be supervised.
This isn’t the first time the judge has failed to take a hard line with a violent offender.
In July, Backus approved the release on a $10,000 bond of a violent offender who had assaulted his girlfriend and their newborn baby at a hospital, prompting a lockdown of the facility, FOX News reported.
Rafael Orozco, 24, fled and was arrested several months later. While he was incarcerated, he was accused of multiple other crimes including assaulting and threatening a correctional officer.
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who initially appointed Backus to the bench in 2011, said she strongly disagreed with the judge’s decision in a written statement issued on Monday afternoon.
“Unfortunately, it highlights how extreme the New Mexico Supreme Court has been in dictating pretrial release for all kinds of dangerous criminals,” the governor said.