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Amalia defendant served with divorce papers at Taos County jail

August 11, 2018

One of five people facing child abuse charges after 11 children were removed last week from a ramshackle compound in Northern New Mexico was served with divorce papers Friday at the Taos County jail.

Sheriff’s deputies served the papers to Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40, on his eighth day of incarceration at the jail, where four co-defendants in the case — Wahhaj’s brother-in-law, two sisters and a woman identified as his second wife — also are being held.

Along with being charged with the abuse of the 11 children, due to their living conditions, Wahhaj is accused of kidnapping his son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, from Jonesboro, Ga., late last year. His wife, Hakima Ramzi, filed the divorce papers in December, shortly before reporting the child missing. The couple were married for about 15 years, Ramzi said in a Facebook video in January.

“I just want my son back,” Ramzi pleaded in the video.

Her son suffered from seizures and walked with a limp, she said, and he needed medication two times a day to control the seizures.

The boy, whose fourth birthday was Monday, was not among the 11 children taken into protective custody a week ago. Investigators found the remains of a small child Monday, but state officials have not yet identified the body.

While police have said Ramzi believed Wahhaj intended to perform an “exorcism” on the boy, she told CNN in a recent interview that she was misinterpreted. She said her husband actually intended to perform a ruqya, an Islamic prayer ritual she said is meant as a remedy. Directly translated, the Arabic word means to “chant or recite divine words.”

Meanwhile, Latifa Weinman, a Muslim woman in Taos, has visited with Wahhaj and the other four inmates at the jail this week. She said Jany Levielle, 35, also is Wahhaj’s wife. One of his sisters living at the compound, 38-year-old Hujrah Wahhaj, is the wife of the second man in the case, Lucas Morton, 40. The third woman, Subhannah Wahhaj, 35, also is Siraj Wahhaj’s sister.

Law enforcement officials say the five adults were living with the children, ages 1-15, at a makeshift dwelling in the tiny community of Amalia near the Colorado border. The compound had a buried trailer, a wall of tires and mud walls, a shooting range, multiple firearms, ammunition and conditions authorities allege were dangerous or potentially deadly to the children who lived there. Underground, investigators found a 100-foot tunnel.

Weinman and her husband, Michael Abd Al-Hayy, said they are continuing to meet with the inmates, speaking by telephone with a panel of glass between them.

The accused have received religious accommodations, the couple said. Contrary to typical jail policy, the women are dressed in flowing white shawls.

“They were a bit reserved about what they said,” Al-Hayy said, “but I found them to be lovely people.”

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