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Questions raised about timing of New Mexico compound search

This aerial image shows a remote outpost near Amalia, N.M on Aug. 9, 2018. Three siblings and two other adults have been charged with child abuse stemming from the alleged neglect of 11 children found living on the squalid compound. All five are being jailed without bail in New Mexico. | Karl Brennan/DroneBase via AP

AMALIA, N.M. — A property owner questioned Friday why authorities did not search a squalid New Mexico compound sooner for a missing boy, saying he told them in late spring that he had met the child’s father at the site and that the man was wanted in Georgia for kidnapping his own son.

While touring the ramshackle living quarters littered with ammunition, diesel cans, used diapers, household garbage and Qurans on his property, Jason Badger also said he believed he saw the searched-for boy by his father’s side in January, wearing a hooded jacket.

Badger said in an interview that he learned through an online search this spring that Wahhaj was wanted in the disappearance of son Abdul-ghani Wahhaj and reported his earlier encounter to law enforcement authorities in New Mexico and Georgia — and eventually to the FBI.

Authorities did not search the compound for the severely disabled boy until last week in a raid that resulted in the arrest of Wahhaj and four other adults on child neglect charges after 11 other children were found at the compound.

A second search on Monday uncovered a child’s body that hasn’t been positively identified by a state medical examiner, although Wahhaj’s father, also named Siraj Wahhaj, said this week that the body found is his grandson.

“If they knew about it, and then that kid died in that time frame, when they knew, somebody has to be held accountable,” Badger said.

Taos County Sheriff’s Department Steve Fullendorf spokesman downplayed Badger’s criticism of the investigation, saying Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe did everything he could possible under the law and had to follow certain restrictions.

“Mr. Badger doesn’t have to adhere to those same restrictions,” Hogrefe said. “He wants to have his 15 minutes of fame and that’s fine.”

Hogrefe has said the FBI put the New Mexico compound under surveillance in recent months and took photographs, but he could not initially get a warrant to enter because collected did not show the boy or his father.

That changed when a note was forwarded to Georgia authorities saying children inside the compound were starving, Hogrefe said.

The missing boy’s grandfather, who leads a well-known mosque in New York, said his adult daughter, who was in the compound, sent the note to a man in Georgia. That man then notified the grandfather, who said he contacted police.

The five adults, including the imam’s two children and a second adult daughter, have been charged with child abuse stemming from the alleged neglect of the 11 children found living in filth in the compound on the outskirts of tiny Amalia, New Mexico.

Prosecutors also have accused them in court documents of training children to use firearms in preparation for future school shootings, although no charges have been filed in response to the accusation that came from a new foster parent of one of the 11 children removed from the compound.

Refuse at the compound included live ammunition and training rounds with no real projectiles used to train people how to load and fire guns.

The suspects are being jailed without bail in New Mexico and one of them, Lucas Morton, also faces a charge of harboring a felon. He is accused of refusing to tell authorities the younger Siraj Wahhaj’s location during the compound raid.

Wahhaj eventually was found armed with multiple firearms, including an assault rifle, authorities said.

Wahhaj’s son, Abdul-ghani, was 3 years old when he was abducted from his mother in December in Jonesboro, near Atlanta, authorities said. He has been described as having health problems that require constant attention because of a lack of oxygen and blood flow at birth.

A warrant said the father at some point told his wife he wanted to perform an exorcism on the boy, who suffers seizures and requires constant attention because of a lack of oxygen and blood flow at birth.

The elder Wahhaj said he did not know anything about his son wanting to perform an exorcism on the boy. But he said his son and one of his daughters had become “overly concerned” with the idea of people becoming possessed.

In an interview with WSB-TV in Atlanta, the boy’s mother called for “justice” on Thursday as she described how her life had been taken from her after her son was abducted by his father. She said that was out of character for him.

She and Siraj Ibn Wahhaj had been married almost 14 years, and she said he disappeared after saying he was taking the boy to a park.

“I wasn’t able to save my son,” she said.

Badger owns the property where the Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and the others constructed the makeshift compound around a half-buried camper, walled off by walls of used tires and adobe topped with broken glass. An underground tunnel — big enough to crawl through — led in and out of the compound, which was flanked by an apparent target range. Dozens of spent casings were left behind.

Badger said that Wahhaj and his extended family mistakenly built the compound on his property, instead of on an adjacent lot owned by Morton. Negotiations to swap properties fell through, he said.

Associated Press writers Brinley Hineman in Atlanta and Mary Hudetz and Russell Contreras in Albuquerque, N.M., contributed to this report.