More details have emerged about the apparent tragic fate of the 3-year-old special needs boy at the center of a case against a group described by authorities as following an “extremist” brand of the Muslim faith which law enforcement found training with firearms at a compound in New Mexico earlier this month.
Prosecutors say that the zealous family of Siraj Wahhaj — which includes his self-described “Muslim wife” Jany Leveille, his sisters Hujrah and Subhannah, and his brother-in-law Lucas Morten — were training 11 children to join them as “martyrs.” The children were found malnourished, some reportedly clutching to ammo when authorities arrived. The remains of what authorities believe to be the body of the special needs son of Siraj was uncovered and awaits positive identification.
The five adults face charges of child abuse, to which they have pleaded not guilty.
“This was not a camping trip and this was not a simple homesteading, the kind that many people do in New Mexico,” said prosecutor Timothy Hasson, CNN reports. “The evidence as a whole suggests that this family was on a mission. And it was a violent one, and it was a dangerous one.” The prosecution says that Morten once passed on a letter to Wahhaj’s brother inviting him to join the extremist group to “die as a martyr,” urging him to “take all your money out of the bank and bring your guns.”
On Monday, more details emerged about the family’s alleged beliefs about and treatment of Siraj’s special needs son, Abdul-Ghani, whom Siraj allegedly abducted from his mother in Georgia. According to witnesses, the family believed the body of Abdul-Ghani was inhabited by demons and that once the family had exorcized them, the boy would return as Jesus four months later to instruct the family which institutions they should attack.
“Those who did not believe ‘their message’ would be killed or detained ‘until they believed,’ a teenager on the compound said, according to a FBI agent,” CNN reports. After interviewing two of the children (ages 13 and 15) found at the compound, FBI agent Travis Taylor testified about the events leading up to the apparent death of the special needs boy. CNN reports:
According to one of the children, the family arrived in New Mexico sometime in January, Taylor said. The rituals on Abdul-Ghani continued in New Mexico at Leveille’s direction, the FBI agent said. According to one of the teens, Leveille believed that Abdul-Ghani was her baby and Ramzi had stolen him from her womb using black magic, Taylor said.
In the rituals, which went on for several days, Abdul-Ghani’s father recited verses from the Quran and held his hand on the boy’s forehead as he foamed from the mouth, Taylor said. During one of those rituals, according to the children, Abdul-Ghani passed out and his heart stopped beating, the agent testified.
He has passed on, Taylor said, but the family believed he had already died and that his family was inhabited by demons. They believed he would return four months later as Jesus and lead them on their mission, Taylor said.
Taylor said that after the boy died, the family washed his body and wrapped him in sheets, eventually moving the deteriorating body to a tunnel beneath the compound where the adults would wash his body every day in preparation for his return as Jesus.
Wahhaj’s lawyer, Thomas Clark, couched the defense in terms of racial and religious discrimination. “If these were white people of a Christian faith who owned guns, that’s not a big deal because there’s a Second Amendment right to own firearms in this country,” said Clark. “If these were white Christians, faith healing is of no consequence because we have freedom of religion in this country. But they look different and they worship differently from the rest of us.”
Though she described the case as “troubling, definitely,” on Monday Judge Sarah Backus denied the prosecution’s request to hold the defendants until the trial.