TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) - Two girls who were among 11 children taken from a New Mexico compound raided last week by police were briefly reunited on Thursday with their grandfather, who said that with their parents in jail he wanted to take them to his home in Egypt.
The girls, wearing pink and yellow headscarfs, appeared happy to see Gerard Jabril Abdulwali, 64, as they hugged in the lobby of the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) office in Taos, New Mexico. The compound was in Amalia, about 40 miles (64 km) north of the town.
Abdulwali, dressed in an olive-green tunic, said he had not seen them for a year.
All of the children have been in protective custody since authorities said they were found ragged and starving at the compound last Friday, and their parents were arrested. The girls’ ages were not clear, but authorities have said the 11 children ranged from 1 to 15 years old.
Abdulwali ordered pizza and spoke to his granddaughters in a gentle voice about their options now that their father, Abdulwali’s son, Lucas Morton, and their mother, Subhannah Wahhaj, could not care of them.
Five adults including Morton, Subhannah Wahhaj, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and two other women were charged on Wednesday with abusing the 11 children, who prosecutors said were being trained to use firearms to commit school shootings. Police said the three women were the children’s mothers.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj was also charged with abducting his 3-year-old son from his home in Atlanta last December. Remains of a young boy believed to be the missing child were found on the property on Monday.
Abdulwali’s granddaughters seemed a bit dazed, but slowly nodded when he asked if they would like to stay with him in his home in Alexandria, Egypt, until their parents could look after them again.
“I have two spare bedrooms, each with two beds,” he said as the girls, dressed in T-shirts, jeans and sneakers, smiled and shyly tucked their hands under their legs.
He said if they could not be with him in Egypt, he would seek to have family on the U.S. East Coast care for them.
CYFD public information officer Henry Varela said the agency had to assess whether it was “able to do anything” with family members interested in taking care of the children.
CYFD officials met with Abdulwali and the girls in a private room for about an hour. The sounds of the girls giggling and playing could be heard in the lobby.
“It went well,” was all Abdulwali said after leaving the meeting alone. He said officials had advised him not to speak with the press.
Asked if he was hopeful they could all live together in Egypt, he said “inshallah,” meaning “God willing” in Arabic.
Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Toni Reinhold