Did the FBI Discover a ‘Homegrown Islamic Terror Compound’ in Alabama?

Reports emerged in spring 2019 that linked a 2-acre plot of land near Tuskegee with a bizarre, sprawling terrorism and kidnapping investigation.

  • Published 13 May 2019
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Claim

The FBI discovered a terrorist compound in Alabama, as reported in May 2019.

Rating

What's True

The FBI discovered a property near Tuskegee, AL, that is closely linked to a group of people, mostly U.S. citizens, charged with serious terrorism offenses stemming from the discovery of another compound in New Mexico. According to the FBI, the Alabama property contained a "military-style obstacle course."

What's Undetermined

Notwithstanding the allegations by federal prosecutors of an overarching, religiously inspired terrorist plot among the group, each of the defendants has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them, and therefore the nature and purpose of their compounds cannot yet be stated definitively.

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Origin

In May 2019, several news websites — most of them right-leaning — reported that federal agents had discovered a “terror compound” or “terror training camp” in Macon County, Alabama, and that the property was owned by Siraj Wahaaj, a man who was charged with terrorism offenses after a high-profile raid on a New Mexico compound in August 2018.

Those articles, by the Daily Caller and Jihad Watch among others, were largely based on a 7 May report published by the Sinclair Broadcast Group which carried the headline “FBI Uncovers Homegrown Terror Training Camp in Alabama” and went on to say:

“… This plot of land in Macon County, Alabama is described in an FBI search warrant as a ‘makeshift military-style obstacle course’ belonging to a small group of terrorists led by Siraj Wahhaj who owned the property up a long dirt road but just a few miles from downtown Tuskegee.

The property [is] similar to another compound in New Mexico the group is now linked to where federal prosecutors say Wahhaj and four other suspects were training children to carry out deadly terror attacks on American soil.”

Earlier in May 2019, the Sinclair-affiliated Mobile, Ala., television station WPMI broadcast their own investigation into the property, which can be viewed below:

  

Snopes has obtained federal court filings and Alabama property records that thoroughly corroborate the reporting of Sinclair Broadcast Group and WPMI. The FBI has indeed discovered and raided property in Alabama that appears to be owned by Wahhaj, who has been charged with terrorism and firearms offenses.

Court filings related to the Alabama property are heavily redacted and do not actually include Wahhaj’s name. But an FBI task force agent’s description of the Alabama investigation so closely matches unique details of the allegations against Wahhaj already made public as part of his terrorism and firearms trial that Snopes is satisfied that the link is certain, as was originally reported by WPMI and Sinclair Broadcast Group.

(Note: This article refers repeatedly to Siraj Wahhaj, a man aged in his early 40s. He should not be confused with his father, the prominent Brooklyn, New York, imam of the same name.)

Background

In September 2018, an FBI task force agent obtained a warrant from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama to search multiple electronic devices and other items seized from a property in Alabama. (News reports about the search warrant and the Alabama property did not emerge until the spring of 2019 because the court only unsealed the warrant documents on 5 April 2019.)

The purpose of the search, the agent wrote in an affidavit, would be to seize evidence related to an ongoing kidnapping investigation. That affidavit outlined the background to the investigation and included details that clearly showed a link to a broader investigation into the macabre, tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Wahhaj’s 3-year-old son Abdul-Ghani, whose remains were discovered at a compound in New Mexico in August 2018 and prompted widespread media coverage at that time.

Several individuals, including Wahhaj’s girlfriend and two of his sisters, were charged with kidnapping the boy and bringing him to what prosecutors have described as a “training compound” in Amalia, New Mexico, where they allegedly engaged in firearms and tactical training and plotted terrorist attacks on police, federal agents and military personnel as part of their preparation for a religiously inspired “end of days” scenario.

The background was outlined in a criminal complaint against Wahhaj, his girlfriend, Jany Leveille, his sisters Hujrah and Subhanah, and Subhanah’s husband, Lucas Morton:

John Doe 1 [Abdul-Ghani] was the biological child of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj (Ibn) and his wife by lawful marriage, Jane Doe …[Abdul-Ghani] was born with Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE). As a result of this condition, [Abdul-Ghani] was developmentally delayed, and he walked with a limp and had frequent seizures …

Ibn is involved in a relationship with Jany Leveille (Jany)… Jany has six children, including John Doe 2 and John Doe 3 … According to a witness statement, Jany became pregnant at the same time that Jane Doe became pregnant with [Abdul-Ghani]. Jany’s pregnancy soon failed. In or about December 2017, in Georgia, Jany formed the belief that Jane Doe became pregnant only by engaging in “black magic” that resulted in Jany’s baby being transferred from Jany into Jane Doe’s womb. Jany understood Jane Doe to be barren and thus claimed that [Abdul-Ghani] was her child. According to a statement by [Jany’s son], Jany believed she received messages and directions from God …

According to a witness statement, in or about November and December 2017, before Jany and the others left Georgia for New Mexico, Jany directed Ibn to take [Abdul-Ghani] and bring him to her … According to witness [Jany’s son], Jany together with her children and Ibn took [Abdul-Ghani] in her vehicle and drove from Georgia to New Mexico in December 2017. According to [Jany’s son], Jany explained that she wanted to take [Abdul-Ghani] to New Mexico to perform an exorcism on him, to cast the demons from his body, after which he would come to life as Isa (an Islamic term for Jesus Christ). Jany explained that Isa would then instruct [Jany’s son] and the others on what corrupt institutions they needed to get rid of. [Jany’s son] explained that those institutions were teachers, military, law enforcement, and financial institutions.

The following is how the FBI task force agent outlined the background to the investigation into the Alabama property in an affidavit in support of the search warrant. Redactions are signified by “(R).” We are publishing these excerpts in order to clearly demonstrate that the search of the property in Alabama was without doubt linked to the same set of circumstances that surrounded the death of Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj in New Mexico. In several instances, whole passages are identical, word-for-word, to passages contained in the criminal complaint against Siraj Wahhaj, Leveille and the other defendants:

(R) is the biological child of (R) and his wife by lawful marriage, (R) … (R) was born with (R). As a result of this condition, (R) was developmentally delayed … (R) required heightened care and also required medication to (R)…

According to a statement by (R) to the FBI during an interview conducted on (R) became pregnant at the same time that (R) became pregnant with (R). (R) pregnancy soon failed. In or about (R) in Georgia, (R) formed the belief that (R) became pregnant only by engaging in “black magic” that resulted in (R) baby being transferred to (R) womb. (R) understood (R) to be barren. (R) thus believed (R) to be her child…

According to (R) explained that she wanted to take (R) to (R) to perform an exorcism on him, to cast the demons from his body, after which he would come to life as Isa (Jesus Christ). (R) explained that Isa would then instruct (R) and the others on what corrupt institutions they needed to “get rid of.”

According to entries in Leveille’s journal, as well as an interview one of her sons conducted with the FBI, Abdul-Ghani died on or around 24 December 2017 after one of several attempted “exorcisms” in which Siraj Wahhaj — reportedly at the instruction of Leveille — recited the Quran over his young son. Leveille’s son reportedly told the FBI that during the final ritual, the boy’s heart stopped and he died.

The New Mexico compound was raided and the adults there arrested in August 2018. Prosecutors in New Mexico have charged Siraj, Subhanah and Hujrah Wahhaj, as well as Jany Leveille and Lucas Morton, with multiple felonies, including providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy to murder an officer or employee of the United States, along with immigration and firearms violations connected to Haitian national Leveille’s status as an unlawful resident of the U.S. All five defendants, except for Siraj Wahhaj, have also been charged with the kidnapping of Abdul-Ghani and have pleaded not guilty to all charges against them. Their trial is scheduled to begin in April 2020.

Macon County

According to Macon County Revenue Commission records, Siraj Wahhaj has since 2014 owned two acres of agricultural property at the intersection of County Road 81 and U.S. Route 80, 4 1/2 miles southwest of downtown Tuskegee, Ala.

The specific location and county of the property at the center of the FBI’s searches in Alabama in September 2018 have been redacted from the federal court documents in question, with only the state in which the search took place left unredacted. However, it is very likely that the property searched by agents in 2018 is the same one owned by Wahhaj in Macon County. (Even if it is not, the search warrant documents explicitly state that the camp was located in Alabama, as reported by WPMI and Sinclair Broadcast Group, meaning this element of the claim is accurate even if the property is not owned by Wahhaj).

We searched property records from throughout Alabama and found that Wahhaj’s land in Macon County was the only property in the state owned by any of the five indicted adults associated with this case. Furthermore, the search warrant documents specify that the land in question is two acres in size, just like Wahhaj’s Macon County property.

The first time the Alabama property is mentioned in the search warrant affidavit is after a paragraph about a car crash involving an Explorer which took place in Alabama: “After the traffic accident, the F.B.I. began looking into (R) connections to Alabama and learned that he owns two acres of land in (R).” We know from the criminal complaint against Wahhaj and the others that in December 2017, while the group headed from Georgia to New Mexico, Wahhaj crashed a silver 2004 Ford Explorer in Alabama which was registered to Leveille.

Finally, thanks to the work of WPMI in Mobile, we know that the physical features and appearance of Wahhaj’s land just outside Tuskegee very closely match the description of it contained in the FBI agent’s search warrant affidavit, which was as follows:

“… F.B.I. Mobile conducted an aerial surveillance of (R) property … and observed a small shed-like structure built out of wooden pallets covered with clear plastic tarps. Surrounding the structure were hundreds of tires built like a barrier to fortify the building.”

After the raid on the compound in New Mexico in August 2018, the FBI compared footage of their aerial surveillance on the property in Alabama with the structure and features of the compound in New Mexico:

“… The structures are both designed the same. They are both surrounded with hundreds of vehicle tires, assorted trash, and both structures have wooden pallets with clear plastic tarps draped over them.”

The video below shows what WPMI discovered when reporters examined Wahhaj’s Macon County property, both via a ground inspection and their own aerial surveillance. The similarities to the property described in the FBI search warrant affidavit are unmistakable.

‘Terror Training Camp’

We have established that the FBI’s search of a property in Alabama was connected to Siraj Wahhaj and his family and the circumstances surrounding the death and discovery of his son Abdul-Ghani in New Mexico in August 2018. We have also established that the property the FBI searched is highly likely to have been the same one that Wahhaj owns in Macon County, Ala., as originally reported by WPMI and the Sinclair Broadcast Group.

The only remaining question is whether the property the FBI searched in Alabama was being used for “terrorist training” or related activities. On this, the evidence is more mixed.

Wahhaj, Leveille and the three other suspects in this sprawling case have been charged with serious terrorism offenses. Federal prosecutors in New Mexico allege that they conspired to “provide material support and resources, including currency, training, weapons, and personnel, knowing and intending that they were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out attacks to kill officers and employees of the United States.”

As part of this plot, the government alleges, the group “maintained a training compound to prepare for attacks on government, military and other institutions.” At that compound, according to the indictment against them, Wahhaj and the others built a firing range and engaged in firearms and tactical training, in furtherance of their terrorist plans.

Those plans were inspired by apocalyptic Muslim beliefs, according to prosecutors, who claim that Wahhaj and his girlfriend also instructed and encouraged others to “prepare to be engaged in jihad, to die as martyrs, and to engage in violent acts, including killing [F.B.I.] employees, government officials, and military personnel.”

Notably, the indictment against the five defendants states that they engaged in these activities in New Mexico “and elsewhere,” suggesting that their plotting began long before they first arrived in New Mexico.

According to the criminal complaint against the five, investigators discovered at the New Mexico compound: five pistols, three rifles, two revolvers, a shotgun, high-capacity magazines, a bullet-proof vest and “a large quantity of ammunition.” At least five of those weapons, the document alleges, were in the Ford Explorer when it crashed in Alabama in December 2017.

The search warrant affidavit relating to the Alabama property describes it as featuring “a makeshift military-style obstacle course built behind the shelter that consisted of five-gallon buckets with chain link fencing over the top. The course resembled an obstacle [course] similar to what the military uses to low crawl under.”

The alleged presence of a “military-style obstacle course” at the Alabama property, combined with the alleged overarching terrorist plans of the group, would make it quite plausible that the Alabama property was used for training and tactical exercises as part of a larger terrorist plot, which is the core of the claim made by various media outlets in describing the Alabama property as a “terror training camp” or “terror compound.”

However, it has to be borne in mind that the five defendants have, as of May 2019, only been charged with terrorist offenses, to which they have all pleaded not guilty. The existence of a larger terrorist plot among the group has yet to be adjudicated in court, along with the evidence the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have gathered. As such, the nature and purpose of the Alabama property cannot yet be stated with certainty.