MemoryHoled: The Taos Compound

MemoryHoled is a series which investigates stories that dominated the headlines before suddenly disappearing with many questions still left unanswered. In these stories we will lay out the official narrative and examine the unanswered questions and unsatisfactory answers. No claims will be made that we know the ultimate truth of these events, only that there is still more truth to be discovered. 

Taos Compound

Sometimes a story goes down the memory hole not because the official narrative is riddled with too many holes to keep afloat but because the truth is so simple and clear that it must be hidden from public view. This is the case of the Taos Compound, a bizarre tale involving religious extremism, infanticide, and a possible government cover-up all converging in the New Mexico desert.

A Death In The Desert

On August 3, 2018 police raided a “makeshift compound” outside of Amalia (pop. 230) in Taos County, New Mexico in response to a message being sent from the compound to relatives in Georgia which said, “We need food, we’re starving.” During the raid of the Taos compound police encountered five adults and 11 malnourished children and discovered the remains of a twelfth, a three year old boy. The five adults, two men and three women, were arrested on various charges including child abuse, child abduction, and harboring of a fugitive. The 11 children—who had no access to clean water or much food, lacked basic hygiene, and were dressed in rags—were taken into protective custody.

The remains were those of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj who has been abducted by his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj from his home in Georgia the previous December. The man told the boy’s mother that they were headed to the nearby park but never returned. The senior Wahhaj was one of the five adults arrested on the site and stood accused of child abuse. The young boy suffered from neurological issues which left him unable to walk and to suffer from seizures. His father took these for signs of demonic possession and left the child’s medication behind when he took off with his son. Court documents state that Wahhaj was training some of the children to use weapons to carry out school shootings. The other children told an FBI agent that the boy would return “as Jesus” to instruct them on where to carry out their attacks.

The Origins Of The Taos Compound

It is believed that the compound was built in January 2018 when Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, father of the dead child; his partner, Jany Leveille; Lucas Morton; Morton’s wife, Subhanna Wahhaj; and her sister Hujrah Wahhaj relocated from Georgia. Morton had purchased the land on which the compound was meant to be built but in a bizarre error, accidently built it on their neighbor’s land. This caused a dispute between Jason and Tanya Badger, whose land the compound was built on, and Morton and the others at the compound. They tried to resolve the land issue in court but ultimately nothing came of this attempt.

After doing some searching online the Badgers discovered that Siraj Ibn Wahhaj was wanted for child abduction and in late April or early May they went to the police in New Mexico and Georgia with information about his whereabouts. The Badgers also filed a petition to get Wahhaj and the others evicted in June. When a sheriff’s deputy went to the property to serve an eviction notice there were no children spotted so no immediate action was taken.

Additionally, they gave the FBI permission to search the compound in May, creating probable cause and thus negating the need for a search warrant. Instead of conducting a search themselves the FBI requested that Jason wear a hidden camera and search the property himself, knowing that those living on the compound were potentially armed and dangerous, while the FBI placed the property under surveillance from afar. While surveilling the property the FBI did spot children including one with a limp, which young Abdul-Ghani had, but did nothing.

Police had also been surveilling the property for months prior to the raid but it wasn’t until the message about starving people on the property was received that the New Mexico authorities finally said they had enough evidence to go in. They encountered an uncooperative Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Lucas Morten, armed with an AR-15 rifle, four loaded pistols and five loaded 30-round magazines between them. Somehow, police convinced the men to disarm and the situation resolved itself peacefully.

When the police returned to the site on August 4th to continue their search they found the remains of Abdul. They boy’s body had been wrapped and placed in a tunnel on the property.

The Immediate Aftermath

In the days following the raid scandalous stories piled up quickly. Despite the possible infanticide, kidnapping charges, clear evidence of child abuse, plans to carry out terrorist attacks, and dreams of martyrdom at the Taos compound, judge Sarah Backus said the prosecution failed to produce any credible evidence that the suspects were threats to the community. She ordered all suspects released on $20,000 signature bail, meaning the suspects did not have to pay unless they violated the terms of their release, and were ordered to wear ankle bracelets and not leave the county. However, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj remained jailed in Taos County on the Georgia kidnapping charge. Leveille, it was discovered, had been living illegally in the U.S. for 20 years, and was transferred into the custody of immigration officials.

Within a week of the raid the compound site was mysteriously bulldozed by an unknown party. No authorities would claim responsibility for the act and even Jason Badger, who owned the property, was never given an explanation. When the site was visited by NBC reporter, Gadi Schwartz there were original birth certificates, ammunition, a bulletproof vest, and notebooks filled with writing which were never entered into the case as evidence. The Badgers had also searched the Taos compound after the raid and found a passport, a cell phone, and two guns. That untrained civilians recovered this kind of evidence indicates that the authorities either conducted a reprehensibly careless search or willingly left evidence behind.

Two months later the courtroom oddities would resume when the initial charges of child abuse were dropped. The Durango Herald reported at the time:

Taos-based District Attorney Donald Gallegos dropped initial charges of child abuse resulting in death against Leveille and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj last week, saying he was seeking more time to assemble and analyze evidence, and that he intended to seek grand jury indictments.

Days earlier, state judges dismissed child neglect charges against the five adults, noting that the local district attorney’s office missed crucial deadlines to present initial evidence of a crime.

The local DA’s office had a 10-day window to indict the suspects but failed to do so. As a result, District Judge Emilio Chavez was forced to drop the charges against Lucas Morton, Subhanna Wahhaj. and Hujrah Wahhaj. Jany Leveille and Siraj Wahhaj remained in prison on separate charges of child abuse relating to Abdul-Ghani.

The FBI stepped back into the picture on August 31 when they arrested all five suspects on new firearms and conspiracy charges. Fast forward to March of 2019 and a grand jury convened by the Taos County DA finally indicted the five adults on terrorism charges as well.

The Incompetence Card

It didn’t take long for more oddities to arise in this case. Following a hearing on October 15, 2019, judge William Johnson ruled that Leveille suffered from a “mental disease or defect” leaving her unable to understand the charges against her and was hospitalized. As of August 2020 it appears that she remains hospitalized.

Less than a year later, Johnson would also rule Morton to be incompetent. Another vague diagnosis of a “disorder that significantly impairs his ability to understand the court proceedings” was given to the Taos compound suspect. Like Leveille, Morton was ordered to undergo treatment to see if these mental issues could be resolved by the time of the trial.

The suspects undeniably lived an unorthodox existence but to rule them mentally incompetent is suspicious. After all, they were able to relocate across the country, purchase property, build a compound (albeit a makeshift one), stock firearms and ammunition, and train children in their use. They’re reasoning for doing so may reveal horrifying motives but it implies competence. If cannibals and serial killers are able to stand trial it seems that the bar should have been set higher than it was here.

A Terrorist Hideout?

In the immediate aftermath of the raid on the Taos compound a narrative around terrorist connections and ambitions began forming as noted above. As more details continued to emerge it turned out these connections stretched back decades.

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj is the son of a famous imam in Brooklyn. The elder Siraj Wahhaj was named a suspect, though never charged, in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Several other suspects in the bombing attended the mosque where Wahhaj served as the imam. Additionally, he served as a character witness for Omar Abdel-Rahman, the infamous Blind Sheik.

The FBI themselves were heavily involved in the 1993 bombing. FBI informant Emad Salem recorded hundreds of hours of tape between himself and his FBI handlers. In one call with FBI Special Agent John Anticev, Salem discusses building the bomb used in the attack under “supervision from the Bureau and the DA” and after the attacks it was revealed, through Salem’s tapes, that the FBI indeed had foreknowledge of the attacks but did not stop them. In New Mexico, the FBI once again sat on information and did not act. In this most recent case however it remains to be seen just how involved the FBI was in motivating Wahhaj and his family to carry out attacks.

The FBI raided another property owned by Wahhaj in Alabama in 2018 that was eerily similar to the site in New Mexico though information about this only came to light in May 2019. Details of the raid are scarce, including why this was largely kept from the public in light of what happened outside of Taos.

This is hardly an exhaustive dive into the FBI’s role in manufacturing terror. The agency has a rich history of failing to act, botching investigations, creating fake terror plots, grooming mentally ill young men, and targeting peaceful movements for infiltration.

Muslims have been a particularly fond target of the intelligence community for decades. There are plentiful examples of this practice dating back decades but even a look back at 2017 shows that the FBI remains is in the habit of stoking Islamic-inspired violence. An exhibit featuring depictions of Muhammad was held in 2015 in Garland, Texas which drew the ire of Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi. The two men opened fire on a policeman and security guard at the event before being killed. Two years later it was revealed that an undercover FBI agent had not only encouraged Simpson to “tear up Texas” over text a few weeks before the attack but was actually in the car directly behind the shooters when the attack occurred. Once again, the FBI did nothing to prevent the act. Instead the agent sat in his car taking pictures of the shooting.

More to Come

It remains to be seen if any of these tactics are at play in the Taos compound story or if the Bureau’s incompetence is to blame for such a strange series of events. As of November 2020, the suspects are still awaiting trial for their latest indictments and Leveille and Morton remain hospitalized.

With the media’s attention focused elsewhere it is concerning that even as this story continues to unfold the truth may remain buried in the New Mexican desert. Should this story remain in the shadows, justice for Abdul and the other children may go unserved while the FBI’s involvement may never come to light.

 

 

 

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