New Mexico sheriff: Compound searched, 11 kids removed

A rural compound authorities stumbled upon

When one of the suspects, Siraj Wahhaj, was arrested Friday, he was armed with an AR-15 rifle, four loaded pistols and five loaded 30-round magazines, the sheriff's office said.

Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj was reported missing on December 10, 2017, out of Clayton County, Georgia by his mother.

When officials finally entered the makeshift compound, they found what one officer called "the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen".

The children, aged 1 to 5 had no shoes and "rags for clothes", the local sheriff said, adding that they had now been taken into protective custody for their own safety.

So on Friday, the Taos County Sheriff's Office and state authorities executed a search warrant on the compound.

Wahhaj was wanted after he was last seen with his son, Abdul-Ghani, on November 30. The officer who helped them had been under the impression that the group was headed to New Mexico for a camping trip.

Two men, described by the sheriff as heavily armed, uncooperative, and possible Islamic extremists were arrested. It wasn't clear whether they had retained attorneys.

"The only food I saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer", said Hogrefe.

In all, 11 children were found being kept in deplorable conditions, provided no water, virtually no food, and they were barely dressed, according to Sherriff Jerry Hogrefe.

But a tip forwarded to Georgia detective last week set off a series of events that led to a raid at the New Mexico compound.

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He identified the women as Jany Leveille, 38-year-old Hujrah Wahhaj and 35-year-old Subhannah Wahha. Investigators believe the women are the mothers of the children.

On Friday authorities swarmed the compound in Amalia, which is 145 miles northeast of Albuquerque and in an isolated high-desert area near the New Mexico-Colorado border.

Hogrefe said the search did not turn up the missing boy, but that investigators had reason to believe the boy had been at the compound fairly recently.

The boy's mother told police her child, who she said suffered from seizures along with development and cognitive delays, went to the park with his father Mr Wahhaj last December and never returned.

Badger explained that a dispute regarding the alleged squatters began in January, but once he learned children were living at the property, he attempted to find an amicable solution.

The raid came after cops received a message believed to have originated inside the compound that stated, "We are starving and need food and water".

However, it took a plea for help and the search for a missing Georgia boy to finally draw sheriff's deputies to the desolate site that was walled off by stacks of old tires, wooden pallets and other debris.

"We had told them several times that you know they're not tenants, they're not paying this rent, they're squatters, they're there illegally - I don't want them there", Jason Badger said.

The women were detained but not arrested, and are now in the custody of New Mexico's Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) with their children.

Police arrested both men. In addition to the child abuse charges, Wahhaj was booked on child abduction charges in Georgia and Morton was charged with harboring a fugitive.

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