Eleven emaciated children living in a filthy, heavily-armed compound, have been rescued by police looking for a missing three-year-old boy.
Officers searching for Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, who was was reported to have been abducted in Georgia late last year, raided a compound in rural New Mexico, about 120 miles north east of Santa Fe and close to the border with Colorado.
While they did not find the youngster, police did discover 39-year-old Siraj Wahhaj, who was wanted by Georgia authorities for the alleged adduction of his son. They also found 11 children living in squalid conditions, with little food or water.
“The only food we saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer,” Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said in a statement.
“But what was most surprising, and heartbreaking was when the team located a total of five adults and 11 children that looked like third world country refugees not only with no food or fresh water, but with no shoes, personal hygiene and basically dirty rags for clothing.”
Police said that following Friday’s raid, they had found four other adults at the remote compound, much of which was covered in plastic. One of them, a man identified as Lucas Morten, was arrested on suspicion of harbouring a fugitive, while Mr Wahhaj was arrested on a Georgia warrant alleging child abduction
Three women at the compound, believed to be the mothers of the children, were initially detained before being released pending further investigation, Mr Hogrefe said. Meanwhile, all 11 children, aged from 1 to 15, were turned over to the state’s child welfare workers.
Mr Hogrefe said Mr Wahhaj was armed with an AR-15 rifle. A loaded pistol was also found in his pocket. Five loaded 30-round magazines and four other loaded pistols were also discovered.
The officer said that the compound had been under surveillance by the FBI for several months but that the federal authorities did not think there was sufficient information to secure a search warrant.
“That all changed for me when a message was forwarded to us from a Georgia Detective that we reasonably believed came from someone at the compound – the message sent to a third party simply said in part ‘we are starving and need food and water’,” he said.
“I absolutely knew that we couldn’t wait on another agency to step up and we had to go check this out as soon as possible, so I began working on a search warrant right after I got that intercepted message .”
According to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, the toddler had been missing since November 29 2017.
“He may be in the company of his father, Siraj Wahhaj. Abdul-Ghani is biracial. He is Black and White,” the centre said in a press release. “CAUTION: If located, do not approach and immediately contact law enforcement.”
Media reports said he had not been seen since Mr Wahhaj took the boy to a park near the family home in the Georgia town of Jonesboro.
Repots said the child’s mother said the little boy suffered from seizures, developmental and cognitive delays and was unable to walk due to suffering a hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy - a type of brain damage - at birth.
The Associated Press said it appeared the two men arrested in New Mexico did not yet appear to have been appointed lawyers and it was not clear if they had been given a chance to enter a plea.
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