Prosecutors claim missing boy died during Islamic exorcism ritual

Just over a week ago, five adults were arrested in a filthy New Mexico compound along with 11 children who were said to be starving and dressed in rags. When I wrote about this story last week, prosecutors had claimed that the children were being trained to carry out school shootings.

One of the adults arrested in that raid, Siraj Wahhaj, was wanted for kidnapping his own special needs son from his home in Georgia. Four-year-old Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj had frequent seizures and could not walk. At the time he was kidnapped, his wife told authorities that his father had said something about performing an exorcism on him. But when the compound was raided, Abdul was not among the 11 children found inside.

However, three days after the initial raid, police returned to the compound and discovered the decomposed body of a small boy. DNA tests haven’t confirmed his identity yet, but authorities announced they had tentatively notified the extended family that Abdul’s body had been found. Today, CNN reports prosecutors are now claiming the little boy died during some sort of exorcism and that all the adults at the camp knew about it:

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…

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.

In an interview with CNN, the father of Siraj Wahhaj, who is a well-known imam in New York, said his son had become interested in the idea of possession by evil spirits:

The boy’s paternal grandfather, a New York imam also named Siraj Wahhaj, said his son and Leveille had become “concerned” with the idea of possessions. But he said he knew nothing about plans for an exorcism.

[Abdul’s mother Hakima] Ramzi told CNN she never claimed Wahhaj sought to perform an exorcism. She said she told police he wanted to perform “ruqya” on the boy.

Ruqya is generally described as an Islamic version of exorcism — though the targets are jinn, or spirits, rather than Satan.

“He just wanted to pray for Abdul-Ghani to get better,” Ramzi said.

All of that sounds pretty extreme to me, but a lawyer for Wahhaj claims he’s seen no proof to back up the prosecutor’s claim last week that the children at the compound were being trained for future school shootings. So they might be extremely religious but not violent. At least that’s the claim.

But according to this CNN report from yesterday, the claim about school shootings was made by two teenagers, aged 14 and 15, who were living at the camp. Children at the camp were also the source of the tip that the body of the little boy was buried on the compound and obviously, that turned out to be true.

There’s also an ongoing question about why it took authorities so long to investigate the camp when a suspected kidnapper was living there. When confronted with why he didn’t act sooner by CNN, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe got angry and walked out of the interview. I wonder if we’re going to find out later that authorities were hesitant to raid the compound for fear of being labeled Islamophobic by activists.