Evangelist and Samaritan's Purse founder Franklin Graham has added his voice to criticisms of the judge who released five suspects accused of child abuse in a rural New Mexico compound.
Eleven emaciated children were found on the property in a case that shocked the nation. Another boy, three-year-old Abdul Ghani, died allegedly during a religious ritual designed to cast out demons and was buried there. His mother had reported him kidnapped by his father Siraj Wahhaj, one of the defendants, last year.
The surviving children have told how they were taught to use firearms at the squalid compound, in which they slept in a trailer buried almost up to the roof in the desert.
Judge Sarah Backus ruled on Monday that the suspects were not a threat to the community and that they should be released with electronic tags. Graham posted on Facebook: 'Can you believe that Judge Sarah Backus let these dangerous Muslim extremists out of jail already? They were training children how to execute school shootings – and she lets them out with an ankle bracelet. That sounds crazy to me. They need to be in a place where they can't do any more harm. One child is already dead and their intentions were to kill and maim as many people as they could. Why in the world would we let them back out on the street?'
Prosecutors said in court documents last week that all five defendants were giving firearms instruction to the children 'in furtherance of a conspiracy to commit school shootings'. However, Wahhaj's lawyer said there was no evidence of this.
'The state alleges that there was a big plan afoot,' Backus said in rendering her decision. 'But the state hasn't shown to my satisfaction, in clear and convincing evidence, what that plan was.'
Defence attorneys said prosecutors sought to criminalise their clients for being African-Americans of Muslim faith.
'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,' defence lawyer Thomas Clark told reporters. 'But when black Muslims do it, there seems to be something nefarious, something evil.'
Backus has received more than 200 threats, according to Barry Massey, a spokesman for New Mexico Courts. The Taos County courthouse was closed yesterday, reported CNN, after callers threatened physical violence against her, including threats to slit her throat and smash her head. They have also lashed out on social media and threatened court staff, Massey said.
He said they had called Backus 'an Islamic terrorist sympathizer' or 'disgusting garbage human'.