Weapons charges dropped in 2018 raid on family compound in desert that turned up child's remains

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FILE - A ramshackle compound is seen in the desert area of Amalia, N.M., on Aug. 10, 2018. Two firearms charges were dismissed Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, amid preparations for trial against an extended family arrested in a 2018 law enforcement raid on the compound in northern New Mexico and the discovery of a young boy's decomposed body. (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. – Two firearms charges were dismissed Thursday amid preparations for a trial against an extended family arrested in a 2018 law enforcement raid on a ramshackle desert compound in northern New Mexico and the discovery of a young boy's decomposed body.

The changes narrow the case to terrorism and kidnapping charges against five defendants in a trial scheduled to begin Monday with jury selection at U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.

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Authorities had been searching for a sickly 3-year-old who had been reported missing by his mother in Georgia when, in August 2018, they burst into a ramshackle encampment in the remote desert surrounded by berms of used tires with an adjacent firing range.

Sheriff’s deputies and state agents initially found 11 hungry children and a small arsenal of ammunition and guns. After days of searching, they recovered the decomposed remains of the 3-year-old in an underground tunnel.

The trail was delayed repeatedly amid the logistical challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, examinations regarding the mental competency of defendants to stand trial and decisions by two defendants to serve as their own counsel with some access to legal assistance. All defendants currently maintain their innocence.

Authorities have said the deceased child, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, suffered from untreated disabilities as father Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and his partner Jany Leveille performed daily prayer rituals over the boy — even as he cried and foamed at the mouth. Authorities also said Leveille believed medication suppressed the group’s Muslim beliefs.

Forensic specialists determined the child died several months prior to the recovery of his body.

All five defendants — including Subhanah Wahhaj, sister Hujrah Wahhaj and Lucas Morton — are charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, providing material support to each other as potential terrorists and conspiracy to kill U.S. government personnel amid tactical drills at the New Mexico compound.

Kidnapping charges are pending against four of the defendants but not Siraj Wahhaj because of his legal status as the father of the deceased boy. Morton also plans to act as his own legal counsel at trial.

A grand jury indictment alleges Leveille, a Haitian national, and her partner instructed people at the compound to be prepared to engage in jihad and die as martyrs, and that another relative was invited to bring money and firearms.