FILE - In this Friday, Aug. 10, 2018 file photo aerial view of a makeshift compound is seen in the desert area of Amalia, N.M. New Mexico forensic investigators announced Thursday, Aug. 16, that a highly decomposed body found at a desert compound in New Mexico has been identified as a missing Georgia boy whose father is accused of kidnapping him and performing purification rituals on the severely disabled child. The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator said Thursday that the remains were those of Abdul-ghani Wahhaj. (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff, File)

Remains found in New Mexico desert tunnel are missing boy

August 16, 2018 - 7:32 pm

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Forensic investigators said Thursday they identified the remains of a Georgia boy whose father is accused of abducting him and performing purification rituals on the child as he died at a remote New Mexico desert compound. The cause of the child's death remained unknown.

The body of Abdul-ghani Wahhaj (ahb-DOOL' GAH'-nee wah-HAJ') was found Aug. 6 in an underground tunnel. It was so severely decomposed that investigators could not determine how the severely disabled boy reported missing in December had died, New Mexico's Office of the Medical Examiner said in a statement.

The office did not immediately respond to emailed questions on what else the office will do to try to determine the cause of death, but a prosecutor said no charges regarding the death are imminent because officials still don't know how the boy died.

"All we have is a positive ID," Donald Gallegos, the district attorney for Taos County in northern New Mexico, said in an interview. "We'll need something else, actual cause of death, manner of death."

Authorities have said they believe Abdul-ghani died in February, when he was 3.

The boy's father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj (see-DAHJ' IBN wah-HAJ'), was among five people arrested on suspicion of child abuse at the compound near the Colorado state line, where authorities say 11 hungry children were found living in filth during a raid earlier this month. Subsequent interviews led sheriff's deputies to the body in a tunnel.

Prosecutors seeking to keep Sirah Ibn Wahhaj and four members of his extended family behind bars said in court on Monday that he had been training some children at the compound to use firearms and carry out attacks on an anti-government mission that might target schools.

An FBI agent, citing interviews with two children from the compound, said Abdul-ghani died as relatives performed a ritual on the boy to cast out demonic spirits while reading from the Quran.

State District Court Judge Sarah Backus on Monday said the evidence provided by prosecutors was troubling but did not indicate any clear threat to public safety from the defendants, who have no criminal records.

She admonished prosecutors for apparently expecting her to take the defendants' Muslim faith into account in her decision.

Defense attorneys disputed accusations of neglect and said guns on the property were legally owned.

The judge's order cleared the way for the release of three defendants — two women and one man — on house arrest with ankle monitors.

But they had not been released as of Thursday amid concerns about their safety, in part stemming from threats of violence against Backus based on her pre-trial release order.

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj will continue to be held on a warrant from Georgia that accuses him of abducting his son from the boy's mother. Defendant Jany Leveille, a native of Haiti, has been transferred to the custody of federal immigration authorities.

Gallegos said his office will appeal Backus' decision to allow the release of the three suspects.

"We gave her all the evidence we needed to and some of the evidence wasn't allowed," he said. "We'll just see what another set of eyes and ears has to say."

Abdul-ghani went missing from Jonesboro, Georgia, last year. Authorities have said Siraj Ibn Wahhaj told the boy's mother he was taking the child to a park and didn't return.

The mother, Hakima Ramzi, now has "some sense of closure in this matter," said her lawyer, M. Khurram Baig.

He said she will cooperate with authorities in their investigation of the death if asked and that her "attention will now turn toward giving her son a proper burial in accordance with Islamic traditions."


Contreras reported Albuquerque, New Mexico. Associated Press writer Ben Nadler in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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