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For months, neighbours had been concerned about a squalid compound built in a remote part of the USA state of New Mexico, saying they had brought their concerns to authorities long before sheriff's officials first found 11 hungry children, and then the remains of a small boy on the lot.

It is not yet certain the remains are of Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, who would have turned four on Monday. Authorities are awaiting a positive identification of the remains discovered Monday.

Sheriff Hogrefe's deputies are searching for the child, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and authorities in Georgia's Clayton County, where officials say the boy was living before his father took him around December 1, 2017.

The sheriff declined to answer questions about what was going on at the compound, but he said a shooting range had been built at the property.

"It's obvious to me that they were brainwashed and feel great intimidation from the men that were in control of this facility", Hogrefe said of the women and children.

CBS affiliate KRQE-TV reports that the malnourished children are in the custody of the state's Children, Youth and Families Department.

A defense attorney said criminal complaints accusing five adults of child abuse are sparse in detail, leading to uncertainty about how much investigative work has been done.

Officials in Clayton County, Georgia, said the boy and his father were last seen in Alabama, on December 13, when they were involved in a traffic accident while traveling with five other children and two adults, KOAT-TV reported.

A look at the compound were 11 children where found living in squalid conditions.

The boy was reported by his mother to suffer from multiple health issues, including seizures and a brain disorder that prevented him from walking and required regular medication, according to KOAT.

In a press release, Hogrefe said he had heard that the adults in the compound were "extremist of the Muslim belief".

A New Mexico man who lived near the makeshift compound said he thought the group had moved to the area to live off the grid, just as he had done. The sheriff said it appeared the children had not eaten for days.

Badger said he had concerns about the compound near the Colorado border.

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Alabama police said they were told the group were going camping in New Mexico, the station said.

The 11 other children, ranging in age from 1 to 15-years-old, are now in the custody of the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Division.

Court records show a judge dismissed an eviction notice filed by Badger against a compound resident called Lucas Morton in June.

Image copyright AFP Image caption Suspects Siraj Wahhaj (L) and Lucas Morton.

The 11 children have been taken into care by local social services.

"It was the saddest living conditions and poverty I have seen", Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said.

"Last Thursday, when a message we reasonably believe came from a occupant of the compound or somebody with great knowledge of the compound sent a message saying said basically, we are starving and the children are staving, or something along those lines", he said.

In January, Imam Siraj Wahhaj posted a message on Facebook calling for the safe return of his three children and 12 grandchildren.

Upon a search of the New Mexico property, Hogrefe said investigators found Wahhaj armed with an "AR-15 rifle, five loaded 30-round magazines, and four loaded pistols, including one in his pocket".

Morten was also charged with harboring a fugitive.

Tyler Anderson of Amalia said Tuesday he had helped the newcomers install solar panels after they arrived in December. But he eventually stopped visiting. He said he felt investigators had enough probable cause to put in an affidavit for a search warrant.

He says 35-year-old Jany Leveille, 38-year-old Hujrah Wahhaj and 35-year-old Subhannah Wahha were arrested without incident in the town of Taos and booked into jail.


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