Federal Jury Convicts Four Taos County, New Mexico Compound Defendants in Connection with Kidnapping and Terrorism Plot
WASHINGTON – A federal jury returned guilty verdicts against Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, his sisters Hujrah Wahhaj and Subhanah Wahhaj, and Subhanah’s husband, Lucas Morton, following a three week jury trial. The jury convicted Siraj Wahhaj and Lucas Morton of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to murder an officer or employee of the United States. Hujrah Wahhaj, Subhanah Wahhaj and Lucas Morton were additionally convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping resulting in death and kidnapping resulting in death.
In a plea agreement which was unsealed today, the fifth defendant, Jany Leveille, pled guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and being in possession of a firearm while unlawfully in the United States.
According to evidence presented at trial and other publicly available court records, in December 2017, Siraj Wahhaj unlawfully abducted his three-year-old son, Abdul Ghani, from his wife in Georgia. Leveille and the defendants had formed the belief that Abdul Ghani was her son and was possessed by demons. The group took Abdul Ghani to New Mexico, depriving him of his anti-seizure medication and the loving care of his mother, and subjected him to an exhausting regimen of daily spiritual exorcisms.
Abdul Ghani died less than two weeks after arriving in New Mexico, before investigators had any knowledge of a suspected location to search for him.
Under Leveille’s direction, Siraj and the others established a community centered on the belief that Abdul Ghani would return as Jesus Christ to pass judgment on corrupt institutions, including the FBI, the military and other government and financial institutions. To this end, they established a fortified base and a firing range. Armed with 11 firearms, including an AR-15 Bushmaster assault rifle, high-capacity magazines, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, the group conducted weapons and tactical training and required some of the children to do so as well. The group conducted the training with the intent to “face the nation” and kill those who refused to believe as they did. They spoke of waging jihad and becoming martyrs.
On Aug. 3, 2018, the Taos County Sheriff’s Office Tactical SRT Unit executed warrants on the compound. Siraj Wahhaj armed himself and prepared to defend the compound before ultimately being taken into custody without shots fired. During a search of the compound, law enforcement located the remains of Abdul Ghani in an underground tunnel.
In her plea agreement, Leveille admitted that she and her co-conspirators entered into an agreement to provide material support and resources to prepare for, and to carry out, the killing of federal officers or employees when they came to the compound. Leveille also admitted that she knew she was no longer legally and lawfully in the United States and that she was not allowed by law to possess the firearms or ammunition.
“When a mother loses her child, we all lose a child,” said United States Attorney Alexander Uballez. “It is our collective responsibility to protect our children from danger and, when we lose a child, it is our solemn duty in law enforcement to ensure that those who are responsible receive justice. My thanks go out to the many local, state, and federal law enforcement officers who worked tirelessly to deliver that justice, and my heart goes out to the mother of Abdul Ghani.”
“The FBI takes its mission of protecting the American public seriously, and we are dedicated to conducting fair and thorough investigations,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Raul Bujanda. “The nefarious activities and subsequent conviction of these four depraved criminals underscore the continued interest of some US-based violent extremists in self-initiated attack plotting, independent of any guidance or support from a foreign terrorist organization. This investigation highlighted their interest in the preparation for and possible desire to conduct attacks in the Homeland against innocent people.”
“In addition to this preparation for terror, the senseless kidnapping resulting in the death of a juvenile these criminals conducted is inexcusable and have no place in our society,” Bujanda continued. "Their despicable actions shattered a community and a family who will forever be impacted by these traumatic events. The convictions rendered in this case show those who participate in these types of criminal activities will be held accountable for their actions. The FBI would like to thank the Taos County Sheriff Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico for their partnership and diligent work on this case.”
All four defendants will remain in custody pending sentencing, which has not yet been scheduled. At sentencing, Siraj, Hujrah and Subhanah Wahhaj, and Lucas Morton each face up to life in prison. Per the terms of her plea agreement, Leveille faces up to 17 years in prison.
The FBI Albuquerque Field Office investigated this case with assistance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, the Taos County Sheriff’s Office, NM Office of the Superintendent of Insurance, and the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kimberly Brawley and Tavo Hall for the District of New Mexico and Trial Attorneys Jessica Joyce and George Kraehe of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section are prosecuting the case.
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