The father of the man who’s accused of training children in New Mexico to commit school shootings is a prominent Brooklyn imam.
Siraj Wahhaj, 68, has not only been a major figure in multiple national Muslim organizations, but was also linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
His son, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 39, was arrested Aug. 3 after Taos County Sheriff’s Office raided a makeshift compound in the Amalia community.
Four other adults and 11 children were found at the compound—all relatives of the imam—including his daughters, Hujrah, 38, and Subhanah, 35; son-in-law, Luqman Morton; and daughter-in-law, Maryam (Jany) Leveille, 35.
“We had learned the occupants were most likely heavily armed and considered extremist of the Muslim belief,” Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said in a release.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj was armed with an AR-15 rifle, five 30-round magazines, and four loaded pistols, “including one in his pocket when he was taken down,” the release stated. “Many more rounds of ammo were found in the makeshift compound that consists of a small travel trailer buried in the ground covered by plastic with no water, plumbing, or electricity.”
All five adults were arrested and charged with 11 counts of child neglect.
The children, who range in age from 1 to 15, were taken into protective custody and turned over to the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department.
The authorities targeted the compound in search of Siraj Ibn’s disabled 3-year-old son, Abdul-Ghani, whom he allegedly kidnapped from the child’s mother, Hakima Ramzi, in East Point, Georgia, on Dec. 1.
The father said he was taking the boy to a park, but never returned, according to Naeemah Rashid Wahhaj, the imam’s daughter-in-law, who raised awareness about the search for the boy on Facebook. Both Siraj Ibn and Leveille disappeared together with their children, “leaving cars in the driveway and house in tact,” she wrote in a Jan. 7 comment.
Family at a Loss
“If any of you know Hujrah, Subhanah, and Ibn Siraj, they are very close to their parents,” she wrote. “Not one of them have contacted their father or mother in over a month!”
On Jan. 8, the boy’s mother pleaded for help with the search in a Facebook video. She also expressed puzzlement regarding her husband’s behavior.
“I have been married with Ibn for 15 years now. It is not him. That’s not Ibn. He’s never abused me. He never treat me bad,” she said.
Authorities said the father, at some point, told his wife he wanted to perform an exorcism on the boy, who cannot walk and requires constant care because of a lack of oxygen and blood flow around the time of birth.
The remains of a child were found at the compound on Aug. 6. While relatives believe the remains are those of the missing boy, authorities haven’t yet announced a positive identification.
Prosecutors say Siraj Ibn was conducting weapons training at the compound, readying the children for school shootings.
The imam said he didn’t understand why his son had taken the family and disappeared into the desert, but suggested a psychiatric disorder was to blame.
“My son can be maybe a little bit extreme,” he said, though he added that he never thought he was extreme enough to kill anyone.
Siraj Wahhaj leads the Muslim Alliance in North America and was also the former vice-president of the Islamic Society of North America. He’s expressed opposition to extremism.
Yet, his mosque has attracted radicals over the years, including a man who later had a role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City.
“Wahhaj has espoused support for radical Muslim causes and was an unindicted co-conspirator in the [bombing],” according to a 2011 training material for new FBI agents.
He reportedly expressed a preference for an Islamic state over the American constitutional republic and also appeared as a defense witness at the trial of the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted in 1995 of plotting terrorist attacks in the United States.
Siraj Wahhaj didn’t respond to requests for comment. Naeemah Rashid Wahhaj said in a Facebook message that the family was not ready to talk and didn’t wish for her or anyone to talk either.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Correction: The article has been updated to correct the spelling of the name of Jany (Maryam) Leveille.