It began last November with a missing child in Georgia. Then in early-August, on what would have been his fourth birthday, the body of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj was discovered buried under a pile of human waste beneath a compound in the New Mexico desert. At the compound, authorities also discovered 11 other starving children, ranging in ages from one to 15 years old.
The story had everything of gruesome, sensational media gold save for one central, inconvenient fact: the five adults arrested in the case were running an extremist Islamic cult that included an arsenal of illegal firearms. Authorities also suspected the children were being trained to conduct school shootings. And the leader of the group was the son of a powerful Imam with ties to a liberal media darling: sharia activist Linda Sarsour.
The boy’s father, 39 year old Siraj Wahhaj, the leader of the compound, is suspected of taking him from his mother in Jonesboro, Georgia and New Mexico prosecutors believe the boy lost his life as part of a religious ritual. His mother says her son needed intensive medical care due to a seizure condition called hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. On Christmas Eve, reports indicate, as his father recited the Koran, little Abdul’s heartbeat began to fade. In documents released ten days after the body was discovered, Wahhaj’s wife, 35 year old Jany Leveille, described the events of the evening as well as her life at the compound in her diary. She said she believed the deceased child was her own, “stolen from her womb.” She is also an illegal immigrant from Haiti who has been in the U.S. for 20 years.
On the fateful evening, Leveille described the boy’s heartbeat going in and out, forcing Wahhaj to perform a religious ritual meant to expel demons from the boy’s body. “Checking with Allah, I assured him to have no fear, and that is was perhaps an illusion,” she wrote. ” “Five minutes later, [Wahhaj] itemized that Abdul-Ghani’s heartbeat never returned. Shouting as loud as I could, I stated: What do you mean it’s not back? That’s impossible.”
While little Abdul was still alive, the other children would be forced to perform rituals on him that sometimes lasted up to five hours a day, court documents later revealed. During those rituals, “Abdul-Ghani would cry and his eyes would roll back into his head.” Two children interviewed by investigators also said they would perform the rituals until the boy foamed at the mouth and passed out. Leveille wrote in her journal,”The reason he could not talk nor walk, is because his life was replaced by shayateens through the medicines used.” In Islamic theology, shayateen are demons. In actually, he suffered from a seizure condition that eventually killed him. When he was abducted, his father did not take his son’s medication with him. After Adbul died, his body was kept around for some time with the children being forced to wash it once a week at first, followed by once every two days. The washing ritual was often used as punishment if one of the children disobeyed the adults, documents say.
Weeks later the body was buried beneath human waste in a tunnel running under the compound. Alex Sanchez, a spokesperson for the Office of the Medical Investigator, said, “The condition of the body made identification difficult and investigators had to use several means to finally make a positive identification.”
According to prosecutor John Lovelace, in October 2017, one month before kidnapping his son, Wahhaj returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia. He was inspired to take his son off of his seizure medications, believing instead that Islamic rituals were needed to cast demonic spirits from the boy’s body. In November, he picked his son up from his mother’s house and said he was taking him to the park, but never returned.
On December 13, according to traffic reports, Wahhaj flipped a Ford Explorer on Interstate 65 just north of Montgomery, Ala. A five year old boy and Leveille were taken to hospital for treatment and then released. Authorities say there were six other children in the vehicle at the time of the accident and Wahhaj told responding officers they were taking a camping trip in New Mexico. A month later, a couple named Tanya and Jason Badger noticed a compound had been erected on their property near Amalia, N.M. They approached the occupants, believing one of them owned adjacent land and had mistakenly set up the encampment on their land. They began to negotiate a land swap, but when the occupants couldn’t come up with money to set the deal in motion, the Badgers contacted local authorities to have them evicted. A local magistrate refused to serve the eviction, but in May 2018 local authorities began surveillance on the property using drones. The following month, an eviction notice was served but despite the horrifying conditions, no other action was taken because no children had been seen on the property. The raid was still two months away, after an anonymous tip was received about the possible missing boy from Georgia being spotted on the property.
On August 3, the compound was raided. Law enforcement found a shaky central structure covered in plastic sheets surrounded by stacks of tires made into a privacy wall; a buried camper; heaps of garage and refuse; an underground “escape tunnel,” pots used to collect rainwater; a small utility truck used as a makeshift bedroom; 11 barefoot children in rags who appeared to have not eaten in days; and a shooting range and arsenal of guns. The site had no electricity or running water and was littered with ammo. Authorities found Wahhaj “heavily armed with an AR-15 rifle, five loaded 30-round magazines, and four loaded pistols, including one in his pocket when he was taken down,” according to the Taos County Sheriff’s office.
Five adults were arrested at the compound on Aug. 3 and charged with 11 counts of child abuse: Wahhaj and his wife Leveille, Wahhaj’s two sisters, Hujrah Wahhaj, 38, and Subhannah Wahhaj, 35, and a man named Lucas Morten. Three days later, little Abdul’s body was discovered.
A week after Abdul’s body was discovered, the suspects appeared in New Mexico district court where Judge Sarah Backus, an elected Democrat, released them on $20,000 bail. Backus has a record of releasing violent offenders on low bail. The previous month, she set a $10,000 bond for Rafael Orozco, 24, accused of battering his girlfriend, his newborn child and a health care worker at at a hospital in September 2016. She immediately received backlash from the community along with over 200 threats for the shocking decision in the compound case. Despite prosecutors’ arguments, Judge Backus said she did not believe the five adults were a threat to the community or to the 11 children. Backus said, “The state alleges that there was a big plan afoot, but the state hasn’t shown to my satisfaction, by clear and convincing evidence, what that plan was.”
In July I visited a similar, albeit more advanced, compound hidden away in Handcock, New York. It’s called Islamberg and is one of dozens of similar off the grid, Islamic religious encampments around the United States. They’ve been known to recruit people who convert to Islam in prisons and provide residents with weapons training, religious instruction and homeschooling for children in isolated properties cut off from the rest of society. Islamberg also has a shooting range and the men wear fatigues, while the women wear burqas. People live in tents made of tarps and storage units line the road that leads in. There are also children there.
I went to Islamberg as part of an annual “Ride for Homeland Security” a respectful demonstration intended to raise awareness of such shadowy compounds. At the time, hate merchants at the Southern Poverty Law Center said anyone with suspicions about these Islamic compounds was “driven by anti-Muslims paranoia” and an “extremist.”
It seemed to me much of the mainstream media’s reporting on the New Mexico cult was scattered and intentionally confusing and avoided saying the word “Islamic” or “Muslim” all together, as if they just wanted the story to go away. Ryan Mauro is a homeland security expert who has trained students and law enforcement on domestic terrorism threats. Mauro watches such Islamic compounds very closely. They also, it turns out, are watching him. Authorities informed him his name was on a list Osama Bin Laden kept on one of his hard drives. Mauro says the New Mexico compound is not an isolated incident.
“There’s been a radical Islamic movement to develop private communes, or camps, since the 1980s, so this actually isn’t anything new. The biggest example is Jamaat ul-Fuqra, which currently uses the name ‘Muslims of the Americas,’ and claims to have 22 ‘Islamic villages’ in America. Their ‘Islamberg’ headquarters is the most famous,” Mauro told me.
According to Mauro, Islamberg “is not just jihadist, it is a cult. They are fiercely dedicated to Sheikh Gilani, a radical cleric in Pakistan who they believe is a fulfilling End Times prophecy and is capable of feats like turning into a white hawk, leaving his body to hang out with Jesus in the spiritual realm, and knowing their innermost thoughts.”
Gilani is a proud Holocaust denier and on the record making disparaging comments about Jews. He also has a soft spot for Hitler. His life’s work has been training guerrilla fighters and, in typical cult-fashion, his followers send him a portion of their income. In 1992 one of his compounds in Colorado was raided by agents and shut down. The last American to attempt to speak with the Islamic leader in Pakistan was Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002. But he never made it. Pearl was kidnapped and decapitated by Jamaat ul-Fuqra militants on his way to the interview. A 2007 FBI investigation was inconclusive about the Islamberg landlord’s direct involvement, and Gilani denies giving the order that murdered Pearl, however he did confirm on his own website that he believed Pearl was a CIA assassin on his way to kill him.
Mauro says the public should brace for more shocking news to come out of the New Mexico encampment, if the media choses to report it. “I’ve met people who left after being lashed or kept in a hole or trailer with little food as punishment, and they said they felt they deserved it at the time. Those suspected of being gay have also been lashed and pummeled, because apparently you can beat the gay out of someone and the world hasn’t realized that yet,” he told me.
The Sarsour connection
Wahhaj’s father — the grandfather of the boy who was found dead in New Mexico — is Imam Siraj Wahhaj. Imam Wahhaj is considered an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He was born Jeffrey Kearse in 1950 in Brooklyn and was raised in a Baptist church before converting to the Nation of Islam at age 19. To this day, he still preaches at a mosque in Brooklyn. He has yet to comment on his children’s arrest or grandson’s death. But following the arrests, the younger Wahhaj’s lawyer wasted no time telling the media that the real reason people are horrified at the story of the dead child was due to racism. “If these were white Christians, faith healing is of no consequence because we have freedom of religion in this country,” said attorney Thomas Clark. “But they look different and they worship differently from the rest of us.”
That’s where the story takes a stranger turn. Brandishing the scarlet “R” of racism is a familiar tactic among powerful Islamic activists in the Democrat party and media and may explain why it’s so easy for places like Islamberg and the New Mexico compound to go unnoticed. Imam Wahhaj has some big name friends in New York, and one of them is sharia advocate and Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour. As late as 2017, at an Islamic Society of North America conference, Sarsour called Imam Wahhaj a “mentor.”
“My favorite person in this room, that’s mutual, is Imam Siraj Wahhaj, who has been a mentor, and motivator and encourager of mine, someone who has taught me to speak truth to power and not worry about the consequences, someone who has taught me we are on this earth to please Allah, and only Allah, that we are not here to please any man or women on this Earth, so I’m grateful to you, Imam Siraj … I’m grateful to you Imam Siraj, God bless you and protect you for a long time because we need you now more than ever,” she said.
Digging through Sarsour’s Twitter account reveals she had been slathering praise on him in tweets going back to 2011, calling him an “amazing man,” one of “the most loved” Muslim leaders, relentlessly quoting him, and in one tweet describing an “awesome” dream she had about him.
Had a dream last night that I was chillin on my Brooklyn stoops with Imam Siraj, @ImamSuhaibWebb and @DawudWalid. It was awesome.
Imam Siraj Wahhaj is Black American and most loved religious leader amongst diverse groups of Muslims. #blackmuslimfuture
Sarsour, who calls herself “every Islamophobe’s worst nightmare,” did not respond to requests for comment from this magazine regarding her relationship to Imam Wahhaj or the situation at the New Mexico compound. Imam Wahhaj’s Brooklyn mosque also does not appear concerned, and has not condemned or disavowed, the gruesome situation in New Mexico. A spokesperson for the mosque, Ali Abdul-Karim Judan, chopped it up to a “domestic situation.” “They’re not bringing up accurate events — they’re bringing up false narratives … Look how this case has turned from a domestic situation, and now they’re trying to create an atmosphere where his son is involved with an extremist radical group,” he said.
Law enforcement in New Mexico remain adamant the camp was training children to conduct school shootings. Speaking in court on Aug. 13, prosecutors said the children were being instructed on tactical skills such as “speed loading” guns and firing while in motion in order to kill teachers, law enforcement, and other members of institutions they found “corrupt.”
The network of compounds affiliated with Muslims Of America and, allegedly, Sheikh Gilani of Pakistan, spans across the nation, and yet continue to get very little attention from the media. Wahhaj’s lawyer, while claiming “racism,” suggesting this would never happen to white Christian isolationists, must not have been around for one of the biggest news stories of the 1990s, the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. New Mexico, and other such compounds, stand to get only a fraction of that coverage. In fact, the compound would never have been stormed by law enforcement had it not been for a tip about a missing child from Georgia.
It doesn’t appear any such Islamic camps will get much trouble in the future. As Mauro told me, “A top official of MOA — and CAIR, for that matter — is running in the Democratic primary for Congress against Rep. Neal in Massachusetts. Tahirah Amatul-Wadud is a devotee of Sheikh Gilani and sources from MOA tell me she is fully committed to him. She has even shared on Facebook an article by Gilani criticizing U.S. involvement in fighting Nazi Germany because Hitler and the Jews had ‘mutual animosity’ and the bombing of Pearl Harbor was some kind of Jewish conspiracy,” he said.
The New Mexico suspects are currently out on bail and required to wear GPS monitoring devices. They’ve been required to secure suitable housing instead of returning to the compound. The children are in state custody and the defendants will be allowed supervised contact. A court date for the child abuse charges has not been set.
Pawl Bazile is Patriotism Correspondent for DANGEROUS and Production Director for Proud Boy Magazine. He tweets at @PawlBazile.