Monday 20 August 2018

US police rescue 11 'starving' children found with armed men

Children’s clothes drying in the makeshift compound in New Mexico. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Children’s clothes drying in the makeshift compound in New Mexico. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Rachel Alexander in New Mexico

Eleven children, aged from one to 15, were rescued in the US state of New Mexico after officers raided a makeshift compound occupied by armed "extremists".

Two men were arrested after police found them and the children in what one officer called "the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen".

The discovery came as part of an operation connected to a search for an abducted three-year-old, according to Taos County sheriff's office.

The investigation started late last year on the opposite side of the country in Jonesboro, Georgia, where 39-year-old Siraj Wahhaj was accused of kidnapping his toddler, who was not found.

The boy's mother told police her child, who she said suffered from seizures and development and cognitive delays, went to a park with his father Wahhaj last December and did not return.

Last Thursday, Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe of Taos County, New Mexico, issued a search warrant describing "a makeshift compound surrounded by tyres and an earthen berm", where Wahhaj and adult Lucas Morten were thought to be.

Georgia man Siraj Wahhaj after his arrest. (Taos County Sheriff's Office via AP)
Georgia man Siraj Wahhaj after his arrest. (Taos County Sheriff's Office via AP)

The FBI provided information and surveillance on the spot but "didn't feel there was enough probable cause to get on the property," Mr Hogrefe said.

"That all changed for me when a message was forwarded to us from a Georgia detective that we reasonably believed came from someone at the compound.

"The message sent to a third party simply said in part 'we are starving and need food and water'."

The sheriff described "a tactical approach for our own safety, because we had learned the occupants were most likely heavily armed and considered extremist of the Muslim belief."

A dozen officers started the "all-day" operation, discovering the two men with an AR-15 rifle, five loaded 30-round magazines and four loaded pistols, including one in Wahhaj's pocket.

Mr Hogrefe said the children were hungry, thirsty and filthy. "I've been a cop for 30 years. I've never seen anything like this. Unbelievable," he said.

"They were skinny, their ribs showed, they were in very poor hygiene and very scared."

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News