Federal law enforcement officials arrested the five people found with 11 children at a remote New Mexico compound in early August, charging them with violating federal firearm and conspiracy laws, they announced Friday.
The case involving the group, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40; Jany Leveille, 35; Hujrah Wahhaj, 37; Subhannah Wahhaj, 35; and Lucas Morton, 40, has been subject to wide scrutiny after law enforcement officials raided the compound and said the group members were Muslim “extremists,” and charged them with nearly a dozen counts each of child abuse. But multiple judges said that prosecutors had done little to prove the claims made in the case, and recently, two judges dismissed the child abuse charges against the group after state prosecutors missed a window for presenting evidence at preliminary hearing. Three of the defendants, Hujrah Wahhaj, Subhannah Wahhaj, and Lucas Morton, had been released from jail on Thursday.
One judge, Sarah Backus, said that there was no evidence presented in court that the guns seized from the group were illegally possessed. But federal officials said that Leveille, who is from Haiti, is an illegal immigrant, and charged her with possession of a firearm and ammunition as it related to her lack of lawful residency. The other four defendants are charged with aiding, abetting and conspiring with her in the alleged offense. Leveille faces a potential sentence of as many as 10 years if convicted; the rest could face as many as 15 years in prison. All are being detained before a hearing Tuesday.
The arrests mark the latest twist in the case, which has drawn wide attention for its lurid details and allegations about connections to terrorism. It has also attracted conspiracy theories and a day of violent threats against a judge that were so severe that a New Mexico courthouse was put on lockdown for an afternoon.
Law enforcement officers said they found 11 guns on the squalid property in Amalia, near the state’s border with Colorado, earlier this month. They also said they found ammunition, high-capacity magazines, a bulletproof vest, and 11 children between ages 1 and 15 in what police described as neglected condition. The body of Ibn Wahhaj’s 3-year-old son, Abdul-Ghani, who suffered from severe health problems including seizures, was found on the property as well. Though the case was initially built by the Taos County Sheriff's Office and the district attorney who represents the area, federal authorities had been involved for some of that time, officials said after the raid. But the sheriff's office also said that federal authorities “didn’t feel there was enough probable cause to get on the property,” at the time.
At least five of the guns were transported in Leveille’s car from Georgia or Alabama to New Mexico, the federal complaint against her says. According to an anonymous source cited in the complaint, Leveille had trained with a gun and fired it once at the compound, as well.
Elizabeth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office in New Mexico, said the defendants did not yet have attorneys in the federal case. Lawyers from the suspects' dismissed cases could not immediately be reached.
Tom Clark, a lawyer for Ibn Wahhaj, told Reuters that the charges were not a good development for the group.
“Anytime somebody gets in the crosshairs of the federal government it’s problematic,” he said. “It never goes well when you find yourself under federal indictment."
The complaint also included more allegations about the nature of the compound and the suspects’ supposed intentions.
According to an anonymous witness cited in the federal complaint, Leveille wanted to take a child to the property to perform an exorcism on him to cast the demons from his body. After he was resurrected, the boy would instruct them what corrupt institutions they needed to get rid of, which the witness said included teachers, military, law enforcement and financial institutions, the complaint said. That witness, as well as one more who was also not named, said that they believed that meant killing or imprisoning people who did not believe as they did, the complaint alleges.
The first witness also told investigators that Ibn Wahhaj wanted to get an army together and train them for “jihad,” which the witness believed meant to kill people in the name of Allah. That witness and Ibn Wahhaj were both engaged in weapons training at the compound, the complaint alleges.
Leveille was the leader at the compound, who ordered the group to surrender when they were confronted by law enforcement authorities during the raid, according to the complaint. She entered the country in New York on a tourist visa that allowed for a six-month stay in 1998 but had never obtained lawful residency, the complaint says.