Siraj Wahhaj

AP Photo/Morgan Lee

Man Arrested At Filthy New Mexico Compound Is Son Of Imam Linked To 1993 WTC Bombing

August 09, 2018 - 2:53 pm
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AMALIA, N.M. (WCBS 880/CBS News/AP) -- A man arrested at a New Mexico compound where 11 children were found living in filth this past weekend is the son of a Brooklyn imam with links to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Four adults were also found living in squalid conditions at the compound on Saturday in Amalia, New Mexico. A total of five people were arrested.

Siraj Wahhaj, who shares a name with his son who was arrested Saturday, testified as a character witness for Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the notorious "blind sheikh" who was convicted in 1995 of plotting terror attacks in the U.S.

Prosecutors also alleged in court documents that Wahhaj, 39, was teaching the children to commit school shootings. The documents claim Wahhaj was conducting weapons training with assault rifles at the compound with the children.

“But defense attorneys question that accusation, saying that the claim was presented with very little information beyond the explanation that it came from a foster parent, and he’s questioning the, what he calls, the thin criminal complaints against the five adults on child abuse charges, saying that they may be legally insufficient,” CBS News Correspondent Allison Keyes told WCBS 880’s Pat Farnack.

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe previously said adults at the compound were "considered extremist of the Muslim belief." He did not elaborate, saying it was part of the investigation.

The elder Wahhaj heads Masjid At-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn, which has attracted radical speakers over the years.

Authorities were searching the compound in search of the younger Siraj Wahhaj's young son, Abdul-ghani, who is severely disabled and disappeared from Georgia in December. He is accused of kidnapping the boy.

Police said Tuesday they had found human remains on a remote part of the compound, but officials are waiting for positive identification. Wahhaj and the other adults on the compound have been charged with child abuse.

Prosecutor Timothy Hasson filed the court documents while asking that Wahhaj be held without bail.  

"He poses a great danger to the children found on the property as well as a threat to the community as a whole due to the presence of firearms and his intent to use these firearms in a violent and illegal manner," Hasson wrote.  

A judge ordered all five adults be held without bond. 

In a Georgia arrest warrant, authorities said Wahhaj had told his son's mother that he wanted to perform an exorcism on the child.

“The mom said that he wanted to perform an exorcism on the child because he believed that he was possessed by the devil. He said he was taking the child to a park and didn’t return,” Keyes said. “The kidnapping happened in Georgia. The thing is authorities were already looking for him in that case, but they don’t know where the child is. A body was found on the property, but it’s unclear whether that body belongs to the missing 3-year-old.”

The Georgia arrest warrant said the missing boy has a condition caused by lack of oxygen and blood flow around the time of birth. He cannot walk and requires constant attention, his mother told police.

For months, neighbors worried about the squalid compound built along a remote New Mexico plain, saying they took their concerns to authorities long before sheriff's officials raided the facility described as a small camping trailer in the ground.

The search at the compound came amid a two-month investigation that included the FBI. Hogrefe said federal agents surveilled the area a few weeks ago but did not find probable cause to search the property.

That changed when Georgia detectives forwarded a message to the sheriff that he said initially had been sent to a third party, saying: "We are starving and need food and water."

Authorities found what Hogrefe called "the saddest living conditions and poverty" he has seen in 30 years in law enforcement. He said Wahhaj was armed with multiple firearms, including an assault rifle. But he was taken into custody without incident.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. CBS News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)