TAOS, N.M. (AP) — A state judge on Monday cleared the way for five defendants who were arrested on child abuse charges at a remote New Mexico compound to be released pending trial despite authorities’ suspicions that the group was training children to use firearms for an anti-government mission.
Judge Sarah Backus set a $20,000 bond for each defendant and ordered that the two men and three women wear ankle monitors, have weekly contact with their attorneys, not consume alcohol and have no firearms.
Police raided the property — a squalid makeshift living compound near the Colorado state line — more than a week ago in response a report of children living in filth, severe hunger and dangers including a leaky propone tank. Two men and three women were arrested and 11 children were placed in state custody.
Prosecutors presented evidence of the firearms training done by Siraj Ibn Wahhaj. Aside from some rifles, handguns and ammunition, authorities say they found books on being effective in combat and building untraceable weapons.
There was also a handwritten notebook that appeared to be some kind of training manual that prosecutors called disturbing.
Public defenders called into question the credibility of information that links defendant Siraj Ibn Wahhaj to firearms training for children.
They also argued that prosecutors were unfairly painting their clients as armed militants as the rifles and handguns found on the property are common guns that can be bought at retail stores and their clients made no aggressive efforts to defend their compound as authorities closed in to serve search warrants earlier this month.
Prosecutors also talked about the remains of a young boy that were found in a tunnel that had been dug under the compound. Family members said the remains were that of Wahhaj’s disabled son, who had been abducted from his mother in Georgia in December.
Prosecutors and federal authorities said one of the children at the compound stated during an interview that the young boy had been taken to New Mexico in an attempt to cast demons from his body through a ritual that involved reading passages from the Quran.
“What I’ve heard here today is troubling, definitely. Troubling facts about numerous children in far from ideal circumstances and individuals who are living in a very unconventional way,” Backus said.
Still, she said prosecutors failed to articulate any specific threats or plan against the community.
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