Residents of New Mexico Compound Plead Not Guilty to Terror Charges

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Residents of New Mexico Compound Plead Not Guilty to Terror Charges

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Defendants, from left, Jany Leveille, Lucas Morton, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and Subhanah Wahhaj entering a court hearing in Taos, N.M., last August.CreditCreditPool photo by Roberto E. Rosales

By Heather Murphy

Five residents of a squalid New Mexico compound where a child was found dead last year pleaded not guilty on Thursday to terror charges that they were plotting to kill United States government officials, military personnel and F.B.I. employees.

While federal authorities say the five family members were planning deadly attacks, their lawyers contend they were charged because they are Muslim.

The new charges are included in an indictment handed up last week. The two men and three women — who have been incarcerated on weapons charges since August, after the authorities raided the compound — stand accused of running a terror training camp and using malnourished children, who lived on site, as pawns in their plot.

Their remote desert outpost near the Colorado border was used to store firearms and served as a base from which to prepare to “engage in jihad, to die as martyrs, and to engage in violent acts,” according to the recent indictment.

“The defendants in this case allegedly were preparing for deadly attacks and their targets included law enforcement and military personnel, the very people who are committed to protecting all of us,” Michael McGarrity, the assistant director of the F.B.I.’s Counterterrorism Division, said in a statement.

But lawyers for the five said there was no terror plot and they were simply choosing to live off the grid, as many people do in New Mexico.

“We believe they would not have been charged with terrorism if they were not Muslim,” said Ryan Villa, a lawyer for Subhanah Wahhaj, one of the three women. “They were simply practicing their faith and exercising their right to freedom of religion and to keep and bear arms.”

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A ramshackle compound in the desert near Amalia, N.M. Five men and women found living in the compound, where a boy was found dead last year, have been indicted on federal charges related to terrorism, kidnapping and firearms violations.CreditBrian Skoloff/Associated Press

Law enforcement officers raided the compound, which investigators described as a trailer buried in the ground and covered in plastic, after receiving a tip last summer that people there were starving and a kidnapped boy might be living there, the authorities have said.

The missing toddler’s mother told the authorities that her estranged husband had abducted the boy after saying he was taking him to a park to perform an alternative healing ritual. The child had a condition that provoked seizures and prevented him from walking.

Law enforcement officials said they found 11 hungry children and a firing range at the compound, and the decomposing body of a 3-year-old boy, amid filth and stacked tires. The boy was in fact the missing child, Abdul Ghani-Wahhaj, the son of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, one of the men now facing terror charges.

The severely ill child was denied medication before he died, according to the authorities, because the boy’s father believed it violated their beliefs. The results of an autopsy are pending, according to The Associated Press.

Four defendants — Jany Leveille, Hujrah Wahhaj, Subhanah Wahhaj and Lucas Morton — are facing kidnapping charges. As his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj cannot be charged with kidnapping.

Mr. Villa, the defense lawyer, said that the authorities had painted an exaggerated picture of just how dire the situation was at the compound.

“None of the children, except the child who passed, were in a bad state,” he said. “When the police raided their home, not a single shot was fired and everyone surrendered peacefully.”

A representative from the Justice Department said Thursday that prosecutors had not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty.

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