Prosecutor: Missing boy died at New Mexico compound in religious ritual

Siraj Mahhaj (left) and Lucas Morten (right)

A missing boy died during a religious ritual intended to cast demonic spirits from his body, a New Mexico prosecutor said at a pretrial hearing on Monday.

Abdul Ghani Wahhaj’s body was washed several times, wrapped in sheets and then buried in a compound outside Taos where 11 malnourished children were found earlier this month, John Lovelace said.

Abdul Ghani was not among the 11 children found alive in the August 3 raid. In interviews with law enforcement after the raid, the children shared information about his apparent death, Lovelace said in court.

The revelation came Monday in a pretrial detention hearing for the boy’s father, Siraj Wahhaj, one of five adults arrested in the raid, and his sisters, Hujrah Wahhaj and Subhannah Wahhaj, his wife Jany Leveille, and another co-defendant, Lucas Morten. The five each face 11 counts of child abuse. They have pleaded not guilty.

The children said Leveille was the leader in conducting rituals, Lovelace said. All five adults knew about the rituals, he said.

Siraj Wahhaj was wanted on a warrant from Georgia issued in December on suspicion of abducting his son. The search for Wahhaj’s missing son led authorities to the compound. The remains of a young boy were found on the compound on August 6, the same day Abdul Ghani would have turned four. The remains have not been positively identified.

The boy suffered from seizures, requiring constant care and medical attention, his mother, Hakima Ramzi, previously told CNN.

After a trip to Saudi Arabia in October 2017, Siraj Wahhaj wanted to stop giving his son medication and perform rituals to “cast demonic spirits” out of his son’s body, another person told investigators. He also told his wife, Abdul Ghani’s mother, that he wanted a divorce.

In court documents, New Mexico prosecutors said the adults were training the children to commit school shootings. But Wahhaj’s lawyer, Thomas Clark, told CNN earlier Monday that he has seen nothing in the evidence handed over by prosecutors so far that supports the accusation. If anything, the children were trained to protect the compound, Clark said.

A lawyer for Subhannah Wahhaj also told CNN that she has not seen evidence that anyone on the compound was training for school shootings.