A judge on Monday denied a motion by state prosecutors to detain five suspected Muslim extremists arrested after a raid at a northern New Mexico compound earlier this month, clearing them to be released, pending trial.
Prosecutors presented several hours of testimony and evidence in court, but Judge Sarah Backus, an elected Democrat, said, “The state failed to meet the burden of showing the suspects were a danger to the community,” according to KOB 4.
BREAKING: Judge Sarah Backus has denied motion to keep the five suspects found at the Taos County compound 10 days ago behind bars until trial. @RyanLaughlinKOB and @KOBChrisRamirez will have more this evening on @KOB4. #TaosCompound pic.twitter.com/xIaIrtEIlA
— David Lynch (@RealDavidLynch) August 14, 2018
Siraj Wahhaj, Hujrah Wahhaj, Lucas Morton, Jany Leveille, and Subhannah Wahhaj each face 11 counts of child abuse after eleven hungry and malnourished children ages 1 to 15 were found living in the “filthy” compound in Amalia, New Mexico, near the Colorado border. The children have since been placed in the protective custody of state welfare workers with the Children, Youth and Families Department.
Evidence of child abuse at New Mexico compound under… https://t.co/GAdBcuqSb0
— Albuquerque Express (@albuquerque_exp) August 14, 2018
Siraj Wahhaj, 39, who was allegedly training children to commit school shootings, is the son of notorious Brooklyn imam Siraj Wahhaj Sr., an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He is also facing child abduction charges in Georgia after allegedly kidnapping his then-three-year-old son and performing an “exorcism” on him.
State prosecutors also presented evidence suggesting that the suspects may have been planning some sort of attack.
They said that Siraj Wahhaj took several weapons classes before coming to New Mexico, and that police found books at the compound about how to build firearms at home. Authorities said that during the raid on August 3, they found an AR-15, five 30-round loaded magazines, and four loaded pistols. They also indicated that there was a shooting range at the site. Wahhaj was reportedly teaching the children how to load and fire assault rifles.
According to prosecutors, Wahhaj sent a letter to his brother, allegedly inviting him to come to the compound and die as a martyr.
An FBI agent described Wahhaj’s cruel and bizarre treatment of his son.
FBI agent Travis Taylor testified saying that, according to interviews conducted between the FBI and two teens from the compound, Siraj Wahhaj would lead rituals that included reading from the Quran and centered on his son, who authorities said suffered from seizures.
“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.
According to Taylor, the children were led to believe that the child, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, “would become Jesus” when his demons were exorcised. He added that once the child “became Jesus,” he would instruct the others of the property or the family what corrupt institutions to get rid of.”
A body believed to be a child was found on the property in the days following the raid, but the Office of the Medical Investigator has yet to definitely identify it. Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj was not among the 11 children immediately found at the compound.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe testified that while the tactical team initially served the search warrant, they found children holding boxes of ammo, and at least one child told the team he was armed.
While cross-examining of Hogrefe, the suspects’ defense attorneys each took their chance to try and distance the suspects as far from the weapons as possible, and the connotations of violence they imply. One defense attorney suggested it’s “prudent” that children learn how to use firearms safely, which Hogrefe agreed to.
The sheriff also confirmed that Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is investigating the legalities surrounding the occupants’ possession of firearms.
Another defense attorney pointed out, and Hogrefe confirmed, that the compound’s occupants did not shoot at the tactical team as they raided the compound. He did say, however, that Morton was “struggling” and “resisting” while being arrested by deputies.
Before the raid, Hogrefe said the occupants of the compound were “most likely heavily armed and considered extremist of the Muslim belief.”
The defense mainly played the PC card during their time at the podium, suggesting that if the suspects were white, Christian, and had guns, “we might not be here today.”
In the end, the judge wasn’t convinced that the group presented any danger to the public and ruled that they can be released on a $20,000 signature bond, meaning they won’t have to pay anything unless they violate conditions of release. Each suspect will also have to wear an ankle monitor and will not be allowed to leave the country. Additionally, their visits with the children will be supervised.
“In this particular case, again, based on what was presented to the judge, I think she had no choice but to rule in the way that she did,” one of the defense attorneys said.
Republican Governor Susana Martinez said in a statement that she “strongly disagreed” with Backus’s decision.
“Unfortunately, it highlights how extreme the New Mexico Supreme Court has been in dictating pretrial release for all kinds of dangerous criminals,” she said.
“Judge Backus has put New Mexicans at risk by releasing suspected terrorists back into the community,” said Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi. “By releasing these suspects without even requiring them to post bail, Judge Backus has put people in danger and created the risk that they could flee and harm other children and communities as well. If New Mexico Democratic Party leaders are serious about keeping our state safe, they should join me in denouncing Judge Backus and the incredible failure of leadership and judgment demonstrated by her terrible decision.”
“These suspects face serious charges that they intended to inflict mass violence, possibly through school shootings,” said state Rep. Bill Rehm (R-Alb), a retired law enforcement officer. “This, combined with the discovery of the remains of a young child, is strong evidence that they pose a high risk of violence and should be behind bars. People who are suspected of killing children and orchestrating mass shootings should not be allowed to walk out of the courthouse and back into their communities with almost zero guarantee that they will ever show up to trial. Regardless of political party, New Mexicans can recognize the danger of the judge’s ruling and the risk it poses to public safety. This is Exhibit A as to why we need to pass a new constitutional amendment that would require judges to keep dangerous criminals like these in jail pending trial.”