Five years after mass student kidnapping, Mexico digs for remains in new dump

By Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican officials have begun scouring new sites for the remains of 43 student teachers including a garbage dump near where they disappeared five years ago, after re-opening a case that plunged the last government into a crisis.

The abduction and apparent massacre of the youths by corrupt police working with a violent drug gang drew international outrage and led to widespread condemnation of the administration of Mexico’s previous president, Enrique Pena Nieto.

Pressure has been growing on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Pena Nieto’s successor, to fulfill his promises uncover the truth of what really happened in a case that many Mexicans believe involved federal authorities.

A person with knowledge of the matter said one place being searched is a garbage lot in Tepecoacuilco, a few miles from the southwestern city of Iguala in Guerrero state where the student teachers were abducted on the night of Sept. 26, 2014.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office confirmed new investigations were underway in Guerrero but said she could not say exactly where they were taking place.

Government officials said at a news conference on Thursday that people linked to the disappearances who had been freed from prison could be sent back.

At the conference, Lopez Obrador and members of his administration shed their usual suits for T-shirts emblazoned with the number 43 to commemorate the students.

“We are convinced that in the Ayotzinapa case, the only truth until now is that there is no truth,” said Alejandro Encinas, undersecretary for human rights. Ayotzinapa is where the students’ all-male college is located.

Officials added they had conducted nine searches since June to find traces of the trainee teachers and would call Jesus Murillo, the attorney general who oversaw the Pena Nieto-era probe into the disappearances, to make declarations next week.

PROBE ‘DISCREDITED’

Lopez Obrador took office in December pledging to re-open the case. His government has called the original probe into the crime “discredited” and vowed to go after the officials who led it.

Angela Buitrago, a consultant named by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights who is helping to oversee the new probe, said it was vital to investigate military officials who were present in Iguala five years ago.

Lopez Obrador said in December that military officials should also be put under the spotlight, but it is not clear what questions if any, they have so far faced.

According to the Pena Nieto administration’s account, local drug gang Guerreros Unidos mistook the students for members of a rival outfit, killed them, incinerated their bodies in a nearby garbage dump and tipped their remains into a river.

However, the remains of only one of the 43 was ever definitively identified, and a group of independent experts later picked several holes in the official version of events.

The U.N. human rights office said in a report last year that it appeared Mexican authorities had tortured dozens of people during the investigation. Out of 142 suspects detained in the case, more than half have been released.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon and Delphine Schrank; Editing by Sandra Maler and Pravin Char)

New Mexico compound member in U.S. illegally over 20 years: government

A view of the compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken in protective custody after a raid by authorities near Amalia, New Mexico, August 10, 2018. Photo taken August 10, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – A Haitian woman who was charged with child abuse at a New Mexico compound has been taken into custody by immigration authorities after living in the United States illegally for over 20 years, federal officials said on Wednesday.

Jany Leveille, 35, was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Taos County on Tuesday and must appear before a judge to resolve her immigration status, according to a statement by ICE.

The immigration proceeding, which could lead to Leveille’s deportation, follows a raid on the compound Aug. 3 in which police said they found 11 children living in dirty conditions with no food or water. Three days later, police unearthed the body of a toddler at the ramshackle settlement north of Taos.

“Leveille has been unlawfully present in the U.S. for more than 20 years after overstaying the validity of her non-immigrant visitor visa,” an ICE statement said.

Kelly Golightley, Leveille’s lawyer, declined comment.

Leveille moved to Brooklyn from Haiti in 1998 after their father died, according to her brother Von Chelet Leveille. She then moved several times between Georgia, Philadelphia and New York, following her separation from her first husband, Von Chelet Leveille said in a phone interview from Haiti.

Leveille had lived at the compound near Amalia, New Mexico since January with her husband Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and children, according to prosecutors. Her six children range in age between 1 and 15, her brother said.

Leveille, Ibn Wahhaj and three other adults at the compound were charged with child abuse on Aug. 8 and their 11 children were taken into protective custody.

The body found at the compound is believed to be that of Ibn Wahhaj’s severely ill 3-year-old son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj. Ibn Wahhaj is accused of abducting the boy from a second wife in Georgia in December. Prosecutors allege the boy later died as Ibn Wahhaj carried out a faith-healing ritual on him at the compound.

Prosecutors have accused Ibn Wahhaj of leading firearms training of two teenage boys at the compound to carry out attacks on schools, banks, and police.

Lawyers for the five defendants say they are being discriminated against because they are black Muslims who practiced faith healing and taught their children how to shoot. Neighbors and relatives dispute allegations the children were starving.

A district judge received death threats on Tuesday after she granted bail to the defendants.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)

New Mexico child abuse suspects accused of training children for shootings

Conditions at a compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken into protective custody for their own health and safety after a raid by authorities, are shown in this photo near Amalia, New Mexico, U.S., provided August 6, 2018. Taos County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – Five adults charged with abusing 11 children at a New Mexico compound, where they were found ragged and starving, were training those children to use firearms to commit school shootings, prosecutors said in court documents on Wednesday.

The principal suspect, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, also was charged with abducting his 3-year-old son from his home in Atlanta last December, prompting a cross-country manhunt that led authorities to the compound they raided last Friday north of Taos, New Mexico.

Remains of a young boy believed to be the missing child were found on the property on Monday, on what would have been his fourth birthday, but have not been positively identified, authorities said. The 11 children found alive, ranging in age from 1 to 15 years old, were placed in protective custody.

At an arraignment on Wednesday, Mahhaj and his four co-defendants, Lucas Morton and three women presumed to be the mothers of the 11 surviving children, each pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of felony child abuse. Morton also was charged with harboring a fugitive.

Prosecutors made no mention of motive or ideology in court filings or during court proceedings on Wednesday.

In petitions seeking to detain all five suspects without bail, prosecutors said each was under investigation in the boy’s death.

No weapons charges were filed in the case, but prosecutors said the defendants were suspected of training children “with weapons in furtherance of a conspiracy to commit school shootings.”

Prosecutors said the allegation of weapons training was based on statements from a foster parent for one of the children.

SHOOTING RANGE

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe referred over the weekend to the suspects as “extremists of Muslim belief,” but he declined to elaborate when asked about it on Tuesday by reporters.

The women, who appeared in court on Wednesday with white sheets over their heads, were identified as Jany Leveille, Subhannah Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj. One of the men wore a towel over his head in the style of a Mideastern keffiyeh, or headdress.

Hogrefe said on Tuesday that investigators found a shooting range at one end of the squalid compound, situated near the Colorado border.

The sheriff has said he sought a search warrant for the compound after a distress message was passed on to authorities in Georgia and shared with his office. He said the FBI was also investigating.

Wahhaj, 39, whose first name was mistakenly presented in some court documents as Huraj, has been described as being in control of the compound. He was heavily armed when taken into custody, Hogrefe said.

According to court documents, when the children were found they were in rags and appeared to have gone days without food, and loaded firearms were within their reach.

Aleksandar Kostich, a public defender representing the five adults, said the identical wording of the allegations about weapons training in each petition suggested that prosecutors were less than certain about the information they were given.

A man who identified himself to reporters as Gerard Jabril Abdulwali, 64, of Alexandria, Egypt, and the father of Morton, attended the court hearing, during which he shouted, “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great.”

He told reporters afterward that was in the United States for medical reasons and had not heard from his son since last year until he received a text message from Morton last Thursday that said “they were starving.”

Abdulwali said his son and the other suspects were “peaceful adult settlers.”

“They were homesteading and were trying to establish a peaceful community, a peaceful life away from society,” he said. “They just went about it the wrong way.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Toni Reinhold)

Five charged with child abuse at New Mexico compound due in court; body of child found

Conditions at a compound in rural New Mexico where 11 children were taken into protective custody for their own health and safety after a raid by authorities, are shown in this photo near Amalia, New Mexico, U.S., provided August 6, 2018. Taos County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – Five people charged with felony child abuse were due to make their first court appearance on Wednesday after 11 children were found malnourished inside a ramshackle compound in northern New Mexico.

The defendants include the father of a missing boy whose disappearance led authorities to raid the compound last week. They also include another man and three women presumed to be the mothers of the 11 children, who were taken into protective custody.

On Monday, authorities found a body at the site believed to be the remains of the missing boy, whose abduction from his Georgia home has been reported by his mother in December. His body was discovered on what would have been the missing child’s fourth birthday, the Taos County sheriff said on Tuesday.

Identification of the remains was awaiting an autopsy. Further charges in the case were possible, local prosecutor Donald Gallegos said.

The compound, surrounded by tires and a trench, is located on the outskirts of Amalia, New Mexico, near the Colorado state line, about 50 miles (80 km) north of Taos.

Each of the five adults were charged with 11 counts of felony child abuse, according to the local prosecutor, Donald Gallegos.

The missing boy’s father, who the sheriff said was heavily armed when taken into custody, was identified as Siraj Wahhaj, 39. According to CNN, Wahhaj is himself the son of a prominent Muslim cleric of the same name in New York.

The second man has been alternatively identified by the sheriff as Lucas Morten and Lucan Morton.

The sheriff declined to answer questions about what was going on at the compound, but he said a shooting range had been built at the property.

(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, editing by Larry King)