Published: Wed, August 08, 2018
World | By Camille Rivera

New Mexico police arrest men holding starving children in compound

New Mexico police arrest men holding starving children in compound

Police say that a message with just 8 words led them to a "filthy" makeshift compound in the New Mexico desert where two Muslims were arrested after what they found there.

The children ranging in age from 1 to 15 were removed from the compound in the small community of Amalia, New Mexico, and turned over to state child-welfare workers, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said on Saturday.

Even though young Abdul was reported missing, there was no child abduction warrant against Wahhaj because he was married to his son's mother - meaning they both had equal custody of the boy, Clayton County police said.

The boy's father, who the sheriff said was heavily armed when taken into custody, was identified as Siraj Wahhaj, 39.

Hogrefe said that sheriff's officials searched the property after they got a tip from an investigator in Georgia, who relayed a message of distress from a person living in the compound.

When one of the suspects, Siraj Wahhaj, was arrested Friday, he was armed with an AR-15 rifle, four loaded pistols and five loaded 30-round magazines, the sheriff's office said. However, there was no sign of Abdul.

Hogrefe said that although New Mexico authorities learned Wahhaj could be in New Mexico in May, local authorities couldn't confirm that he was at the Amalia compound and that's why they didn't move in sooner.

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All five adults were detained, charged with child abuse. Wahhaj told the trooper that he owned the guns legally and had a Georgia permit to carry concealed weapons.

Law enforcement then "had enough probable cause for a search warrant" to search for Wahhaj and the boy on the property, Hogrefe said.

Anderson said the children found inside the compound at first played at neighboring properties but stopped in recent months.

The FBI referred queries from Reuters about the case to the Taos County sheriff. Wahhaj's relatives, including his -father, an imam at a mosque in Brooklyn, New York, launched a social media campaign to try to find the missing boy.

The women, believed to be mothers of some of the children, have been identified as 35-year-old Jany Leveille, 38-year-old Hujrah Wahhaj, and 35-year-old Subhannah Wahhaj.

The boy's mother told police that her child, who she said suffered from seizures along with developmental and cognitive issues, went to the park with his father Wahhaj last December and never returned.

The children "looked like third-world country refugees", Hogrefe said.

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"Last Thursday, when a message we reasonably believe came from a occupant of the compound or somebody with great knowledge of the compound sent a message saying said basically, we are starving and the children are staving, or something along those lines", he said.

But at the time, the group told Alabama police they were headed to New Mexico for camping, and continued on their way. They and the three women all face 11 counts of child abuse.

He said on Tuesday he had helped the newcomers install solar panels after they arrived. His body was discovered on what would have been the missing child's fourth birthday, the Taos County sheriff said on Tuesday.

Taos County sheriff's deputies raided a makeshift compound on Friday in search of a missing boy from Georgia, 2,000 kilometres away.

In the aftermath of the raid, Badger visited the compound.

Jail booking photos show them wearing traditional Muslim veils or hijabs.

"We all gave the kids our water and what snacks we had", he added, "it was the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen".

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Aleks Kostich, managing attorney in the Taos County public defender's office, said the office was gathering information and assigning lawyers to the defendants.

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