A man arrested in New Mexico last week on child abuse and abduction charges was training one of the 11 children at his remote desert encampment to carry out a school shooting, prosecutors have claimed.
Siraj Wahhaj, 39, appeared before a magistrate in Taos, New Mexico, on Wednesday.
He was arrested on Friday after police, searching for his missing four-year-old son Abdul-Ghani, raided the compound and found 11 starving, filthy children with five adults.
Wahhaj and the four others – his wife Jany Leveille, 38, his sisters, Subhannah, 35, and Hujrah, 38, and Subhannah’s husband Lucas Morten – were charged with 11 counts of child abuse.
Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe, who arrested Wahhaj and his associates after a day-long armed standoff, said his men planned "a tactical approach for our own safety, because we had learned the occupants were most likely heavily armed and considered extremist of the Muslim belief."
The remains of a young boy, believed to be Wahhaj’s missing son, was found buried on the property, Mr Hogrefe said on Tuesday.
On Wednesday it emerged that one of the 11 children taken into care had, according to prosecutors, told their foster parents that Wahhaj trained them to carry out a school shooting.
The child was allegedly taught to fire an assault rifle, in readiness for the mission.
Tim Hasson, a prosecutor with the district court in Taos, requested that Wahhaj, son of a prominent Brooklyn imam, remain in custody and that his case be moved to the district court. His office has also filed motions to hold the other four defendants.
The saga began in December, when Wahhaj told the boy’s mother he was taking their severely disabled child, unable to walk, to the park.
He never returned to their home in Georgia, and the boy’s mother reported it to the police, saying Wahhaj intended to perform an “exorcism” on his son because Abdul-Ghani was “possessed by the Devil.”
She later said that “exorcism” was a mistranslation, and that Wahhaj simply wanted to pray for his son.
New Mexico authorities had long suspected the father and son might be at the compound after learning about the abduction in May, said Mr Hogrefe.
But there was not enough evidence for a search warrant, and surveillance of the property did not identify the pair there. That changed on Thursday, when they received a note from inside the compound saying they were starving and thirsty.
Mr Hogrefe said his men found Wahhaj in a "partly buried camper trailer" with two women and several of the children.
Wahhaj refused to come out with his hands up, and when investigators opened the door, they found Wahhaj "was armed with a loaded revolver in his pocket," and was "wearing a belt with five loaded 30-round AR15 magazines in pouches on the belt."
Next to Wahhaj was a loaded AR15, according to Mr Hogrefe’s affidavit.
Wahhaj refused to give his name or identify anyone with him. He declined to say anything about his son Abdul’s whereabouts, according to the court document.
Investigators found a 100-foot tunnel on the north side of the buried trailer, about three feet in diameter with two dugout "pockets" containing bedding, Mr Hogrefe said.
Another enclosure made of straw and tires housed a makeshift toilet. There was no running water.
On the compound was a powerful Marlin 30-30 rifle with a scope, other guns, ammunition, a laptop, camcorder, and a Penguin child’s nebulizer used to turn medicine into mist.
Morten was arrested at the front of the property and initially charged with harbouring a fugitive. The child abuse charges were added later.
"The living conditions, health and wellbeing of the children were deemed deplorable,” said Mr Hogrefe.
“They had no clean water, food or electricity; dirty clothing, poor hygiene, and had not eaten or taken nutrition in what was believed to be days."