FBI arrests New Mexico compound members on new charges

FBI arrests New Mexico compound members on new charges
FBI arrests New Mexico compound members on new charges

By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) - Five residents of a New Mexico compound were arrested on Friday by the FBI for violating firearms and conspiracy laws in what one of their lawyers described as a "bad development" for the group who are accused of planning anti-government attacks.

Jany Leveille, 35; Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40; Hujrah Wahhaj, 37; Subhanah Wahhaj, 35; and Lucas Morton, 40, were charged in criminal complaints filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.

The arrests and charges came two days after two New Mexico judges dismissed child abuse charges against all five defendants due to a procedural fumble by state prosecutors and allowed three of them to be released from jail.

"Anytime somebody gets in the cross hairs of the federal government it's problematic, it never goes well when you find yourself under federal indictment," said Tom Clark, a lawyer for Ibn Wahhaj. "It's not a good development for any defendant."

The five, who are all black and Muslim, were under FBI drone surveillance at their remote compound north of Taos starting in May, according to Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe.

They came under FBI scrutiny after Leveille sent a letter to Ibn Wahhaj's brother asking him to join them at the compound so he could become a "martyr," state prosecutors said on Aug. 13.

The five were first arrested following an Aug. 3 raid by the sheriff in which he found a cache of firearms and 11 children with no food or clean water, according to charges. Three days later police found the body of Ibn-Wahhaj's 3-year-old son in a tunnel at the compound.

State prosecutors have accused the five of training two teenage children at the compound for future attacks on schools and other "corrupt institutions," including Atlanta's Grady Hospital. The five have yet to be charged over the allegations.

The federal complaint charges Leveille, a Haitian national, with being in the United States illegally and unlawfully in possession of firearms and ammunition from November 2017 through August 2018.

The other four defendants are charged with aiding and abetting Leveille and conspiring with her to commit the offense.

Leveille's lawyer Kelly Golightley was not immediately available for comment. Lawyers for the other three defendants did not respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; additional reporting by Keith Coffman; editing by Toni Reinhold, Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

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