By Andrew Hay
TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – A New Mexico judge’s decision to grant bail to two men and three women charged with child abuse and accused of training children at their remote compound for attacks was slammed by the state’s governor and many locals but praised by others who said they posed no danger.
District court Judge Sarah Backus on Monday ruled prosecutors failed to show the defendants posed a threat to the community, despite accusations an abducted toddler died at their compound near Amalia, New Mexico, as his father prayed from the Koran to cast out “demonic spirits.”
“I believe that decision is endangering our community and our people,” said Larry Salazar, 67, a rancher who lives about 2 miles from the high-desert compound where police discovered a boy’s body on Aug. 6. “There’s a murderer in the bunch. What are we going to do to protect ourselves? Where are they going to be going to?”
The two men, their wives and a sister must wear GPS ankle bracelets once released on $20,000 bail each and are not allowed back to the compound, Backus ruled.
The case has split the community between those who believe the group was involved in a tragic attempt to live “off the grid,” and others who fear they were hatching a plot to attack schools, banks and police, as prosecutors have alleged.
“I don’t think they posed any threat, especially when they came in here using their real names and introduced themselves to every possible person who was their neighbour,” said a resident named Quincy, who requested his full name not be used due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Their supposed leader, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, is charged with abducting his ill 3-year-old son and taking him to the compound where he stopped breathing as Ibn Wahhaj performed faith healing on him in February, prosecutors said.
Wahhaj has not entered a plea but the other four adults have pleaded not guilty. Wahhaj must remain in custody as he still faces a Georgia arrest warrant for the abduction of his son.
They alleged Wahhaj gave firearms training to two teenage boys to attack “corrupt institutions.”
The group’s 11 children are in protective care and defendants may visit them once released, Backus ruled.
Republican Governor Susana Martinez said Backus’ decision illustrated the state’s flawed bail laws.
“It highlights how extreme the New Mexico Supreme Court has been in dictating pretrial release for all kinds of dangerous criminals,” Martinez said in a statement.
Ali Abdul-Karim Judan, spokesman for the Brooklyn mosque where Ibn Wahhaj’s father is imam, said the “positive” decision showed this was “not a terrorist case.”
“This is a domestic case. Sometimes our children make some horrific choices,” Judan said on Facebook.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)