Investigators are uncovering more details about five adults accused of child abuse after 11 emaciated children were found in a trailer buried in a New Mexico compound last Friday.
The two men and three women — believed to be the mothers of the children — each face 11 counts “related to the neglect and abuse of the children involved.” The accused are due in court Tuesday and Wednesday.
One of the men arrested is the son of a prominent and controversial New York imam, according to Facebook posts and the Muslim Alliance in North America.
And the imam’s Facebook post identifies two women among the suspects as his daughters.
Imam Siraj Wahhaj in a January Facebook post called for the safe return of his three children and 12 grandchildren, one of whom authorities say remains missing.
The Muslim Alliance in North America confirmed that the religious leader — the first Muslim to offer an opening prayer before the US House of Representatives — is the father of suspect Siraj Wahhaj, 40, with both men going by the same name.
The imam also was a character witness for convicted 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Omar Abdel-Rahman.
Tip relating to missing boy led to raid
The younger Siraj Wahhaj is wanted by Georgia authorities on charges related to the disappearance of his son, Abdul Ghani Wahhaj, eight months ago.
Abdul’s mother reported him missing from Clayton County, Georgia, just south of Atlanta, on December 3. She said her son left to go to the park with his father Siraj Wahhaj on November 30 and that they never returned.
According to the boy’s missing persons profile, he “needs assistance walking and may have braces for his legs.”
Initially, there was no child abduction warrant against Wahhaj because he was married to his son’s mother — meaning they both had equal custody, Clayton County police said. A juvenile court judge eventually issued an arrest warrant to question Wahhaj after he failed to let the mother know where Abdul was.
It was a tip relating to the search for young Abdul, who turned 4 years old on Monday, that led to the horrid discovery of the compound last Friday.
A message apparently sent from someone at the compound was forwarded to a Georgia detective last week. It contained a desperate plea: “We are starving and need food and water.”
The message provided grounds for the Taos County Sheriff’s Office and state authorities to execute a search warrant.
There they found Wahhaj and Lucas Morten, heavily armed and with a cache of weapons and ammo, the sheriff’s office said.
The 11 children — ranging in age from 1 to 15 — and three women: Hujrah Wahhaj, 38; Subhannah Wahhaj, 35; and Jany Leveille, 35, were inside a trailer buried in the ground and covered in plastic.
Morten has been charged with harboring a fugitive in addition to the 11 counts of child abuse faced by all the adults.
The children were taken into protective custody and later turned over to the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department.
Abdul, however, is still missing. Authorities said there was reason to believe he was at the compound a “few weeks ago.”