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Two charged for boy's death at New Mexico compound

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) - Two people arrested for alleged child abuse at a New Mexico settlement faced new charges on Friday in connection with the death of a toddler whose body was recently discovered at the site, the Taos County Sheriff’s Office said.

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Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, the father of the boy whose body was found, and his wife Jany Leveille were charged with abuse of a child resulting in death, which carries a potential life sentence, Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said in a statement. They were also charged with conspiracy to commit abuse of a child.

The new counts increase the severity of charges against Leveille and Ibn Wahhaj, who were among five people charged with child abuse at the makeshift compound near Amalia, New Mexico.

Prosecutors have also accused Ibn Wahhaj of leading weapons training for two teenage sons at the settlement to carry out attacks on “corrupt institutions.”

“We now know the child died on December 24, 2017 and was concealed at the compound,” Hogrefe said in the statement.

Leveille’s lawyer Kelly Golightley declined to comment. Tom Clark, who is representing Ibn Wahhaj, did not respond to a request for comment.

The charges follow nearly three weeks of interviews and examinations of electronic and written data seized after police raided the settlement on Aug. 3, the sheriff’s office said.

Prosecutors have portrayed Ibn Wahhaj, the son of a prominent New York Muslim cleric, as the leader of the group and Leveille as its spiritual leader.

Defense lawyers have said the defendants were practising their rights to religious freedom and to own firearms and are being discriminated against for being black and Muslim.

A Federal Bureau of Investigation agent said in court testimony on Aug. 13 that Ibn Wahhaj’s severely ill son died as his father carried out “ruqya,” a common Islamic faith healing ritual, to cast out evil spirits from him.

Ibn Wahhaj is accused of abducting the boy from his first wife in Georgia in December.

The boy’s body was found in a tunnel at their makeshift New Mexico home on Aug. 6, three days after the defendants’ 11 other children were taken into protective custody following the raid.

Leveille, a Haitian national, was transferred from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody back to Taos County on Thursday where she is also being held on immigration charges, the sheriff’s office said.

Ibn Wahhaj, his brother in law, Lucas Morton, and sisters Hujrah Wahhaj and Subhannah Wahhaj are also in Taos County jail awaiting trial.

Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos; Editing by Sandra Maler and Paul Tait