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Suspected Clayton County child abductor arrested at New Mexico compound

Local sheriff calls the compound "the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen."

A man suspected of abducting his Clayton County son last December has been arrested in New Mexico.

According to the Taos County, NM, Sheriff's Office, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj was taken into custody on Friday. He is wanted in connection with the abduction of his son, Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, in Jonesboro, after the boy's mother reported him missing.

But the boy was not found where his father was arrested, which law enforcement officials described as a "compound" in Amalia, NM. A total of 11 children, ranging from one to 15 years old, were taken into protective custody by New Mexico state officials.

Officials said they believed little Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj had been there several weeks before, and are continuing to search for the boy's whereabouts.

Three women, believed to be the children's mothers, were also detained, as well as another man from Georgia, identified as Lucas Morten.

On Thursday, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe issued a search warrant for the compound, described as an earthen berm in a local subdivision was allegedly occupied by Morten and Siraj Wahhaj.

The warrant came after a two-month investigation in conjunction with Clayton County and FBI investigators.

Hogrefe issued the warrants after he received a message from a Georgia detective that came from inside the compound through a third party that said, “We are starving and need food and water.”

"I absolutely knew we couldn’t wait on another agency to step up and we had to go check this out as soon as possible," Hogrefe said, who added his agency believed the occupants were likely heavily armed and of an extremist Muslim belief.

On Friday morning, eight members of the sheriff’s response team, along with state law enforcement officials, raided the compound.

Both Morten and Siraj Wahhaj, police said, were armed with AR15 rifles, loaded 30-round magazines, and loaded handguns, but eventually taken into custody without incident.

Many more rounds of ammo were found in the makeshift compound that consisted of a small travel trailer buried in the ground covered by plastic with no water, plumbing, or electricity.

“The only food I saw were a few potatoes and a box of rice in the filthy trailer,” said Hogrefe. “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 with no food or fresh water, no shoes, and basically dirty rags for clothing.”

Morten was charged with harboring a fugitive and Wahhaj was booked on his no-bond Georgia warrant for child abduction. The women were eventually released.

“We all gave the kids our water and what snacks we had," Hogrefe said. "It was the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen.”

READ | New details in search for missing boy who may be without his medications

The mother of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj called Clayton County police on Dec. 10, 2017. She told authorities that she hadn't seen her son since Dec. 1 when her father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, said he was taking him to the park.

The mother told police her son has to take medication because he suffers from seizures, developmental and cognitive delays and is unable to walk due to suffering a Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) at birth.

AND | 3-year-old missing without medication believed to be heading to New Mexico

A Clayton County judge issued a "Pick Up Order" for the toddler and he was placed on the Georgia Crime Information Center and National Crime Information Center Databases as a missing person.

The last reports of the father and son being seen in public together came on Dec. 13, when they were involved in a single-vehicle accident on I-65 in Chilton County, Ala.

Police said Abdul and Siraj were traveling with two other adults and five children at the time of the crash. Police in Alabama found out the group was traveling to New Mexico for a camping trip. After the accident, the group was picked up in a 2006 Ford Box-truck with a Delaware license plate that was registered to Morton.

On Dec. 29, Clayton County police said they had obtained information that the group could be in the area of Taos, NM.

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