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A view of the compound, August 10, 2018. "If these people were white and Christian, nobody would bat an eye over the idea of faith healing, or praying over a body or touching a body and quoting scripture," defense lawyer Thomas Clark told reporters after the hearing. "But when black Muslims do it, there seems to be something nefarious, something evil." REUTERS/Andrew Hay(reuters_tickers)
By Andrew Hay
TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) - A New Mexico judge received death threats on Tuesday a day after she granted bail to two men and three women charged with child abuse and accused of training children at their compound to carry out attacks, court officials said.
Police raided the compound in Taos County on Aug. 3 following a tip-off that children held there were starving. They found 11 children in need of food and water, and three days later they found the buried body of a toddler.
Granting bail on Monday, district Judge Sarah Backus said prosecutors failed to show the defendants, all of whom are Muslims, posed a danger to the community.
A caller subsequently told Backus "he wished her throat were slit", New Mexico courts spokesman Barry Massey said.
"Another caller said he hoped someone would come and smash her head in," Massey said.
Backus has been bombarded with abuse and criticism on Twitter, and an email to the judge referred to her as an "Islamic terrorism sympathizer", New Mexico courts spokesman Barry Massey said. The five defendants are black Muslims.
Backus closed her court following the threats and the Taos County courthouse went into lockdown.
Prosecutors have alleged that the dead toddler was a severely ill boy abducted from Georgia by his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, in December. Prosecutors alleged the boy died at the compound in February as Ibn Wahhaj tried to heal him through prayer.
The children have been placed in protective care, and Backus ruled that the defendants may visit them once they are released.
New Mexico's Republican Governor Susana Martinez slammed Backus' bail decision in a statement, saying the Supreme Court had been "dictating pretrial release for all kinds of dangerous criminals."
The five defendants - 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 Taos County community between those who believe the group was involved in a failed 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.
"There’s a murderer in the bunch," said Larry Salazar, 67, a rancher who lives about 2 miles from the high-desert compound where police discovered a boy's body. "What are we going to do to protect ourselves? Where are they going to be going to?".
Another resident, named Quincy, who requested his full name not be used, said he didn't think the defendants were dangerous, "especially when they came in here using their real names and introduced themselves to every possible person who was their neighbour."
The alleged leader, Ibn Wahhaj, faces charges for allegedly abducting his 3-year-old son. Ibn 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.
Prosecutors allege Wahhaj gave firearms training to two teenage boys to attack "corrupt institutions."
Ibn Wahhaj's wife Jany Leveille, 35, from Haiti, was taken into custody by immigration officials on Tuesday, according to the Taos County Sheriff's Office.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Lisa Shumaker & Simon Cameron-Moore)