Some of the 11 children found malnourished in a buried compound in New Mexico were being trained to use firearms to commit school shootings, prosecutors have claimed.
At a hearing on Wednesday, it was alleged that the principal suspect, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, was teaching some of the children how to use weapons.
Wahhaj was arrested along with four other adults after police traced him to the compound last Friday. A cross-country manhunt had been under way since December, when he abducted his three-year-old son from his home in Atlanta.
The remains of a young boy believed to be the missing child were found on the New Mexico property on Monday, on what would have been his fourth birthday, but have not been positively identified, authorities said.
Mahhaj and his four co-defendants, Lucas Morton and three women presumed to be the mothers of the 11 surviving children, each pleaded not guilty to 11 counts of felony child abuse.
Mahhaj was also charged with abducting his son and Morton faced a further count of harbouring a fugitive.
The children, aged between one and 15, have all been placed into protective custody.
In petitions seeking to detain all five suspects without bail, prosecutors said each was under investigation in the boy’s death.
No weapons charges were filed in the case, but prosecutors said the defendants were suspected of training children “with weapons in furtherance of a conspiracy to commit school shootings.”
Prosecutors said the allegation of weapons training was based on statements from a foster parent for one of the children.
Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe referred over the weekend to the suspects as “extremists of Muslim belief,” but he declined to elaborate when asked about it on Tuesday by reporters.
The women, who appeared in court on Wednesday with white sheets over their heads, were identified as Jany Leveille, Subhannah Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj.
Hogrefe said on Tuesday that investigators found a shooting range at one end of the squalid compound, situated near the Colorado border.
The sheriff has said he sought a search warrant for the compound after a distress message was passed on to authorities in Georgia and shared with his office.
He said the FBI was also investigating.
Wahhaj, 39, has been described as being in control of the compound and was heavily armed when he was arrested.
According to court documents, when the children were found they were in rags and appeared to have gone days without food. Loaded firearms were said to have been within their reach.
Aleksandar Kostich, a public defender representing the five adults, said the identical wording of the allegations about weapons training in each petition suggested that prosecutors were less than certain about the information they were given.