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'American Taliban' to be released after 17 years in prison

John Walker Lindh today (left) and in 2002 (right) [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 May, 2019

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John Walker Lindh was captured fighting for the Taliban in November 2001 and handed over to US authorities. After 17 years in jail, he will be released on Thursday.
John Walker Lindh, the American who was captured fighting for Afghanistan's Islamist Taliban group in November 2001, will be freed from prison on Thursday amid concerns that he may not have forsaken the ideology that took him to Afghanistan.

Known as "Detainee 001" in the US War on Terror, Lindh's release after 17 years in prison is resurrecting memories of the September 11 attacks and underscores the fact that, almost two decades later, the US continues to battle the Taliban with no end in sight.

Images of Lindh - bearded, dirty and disheveled and strapped to a stretcher after his capture - came to symbolise the enemy for many Americans.

Lindh, 38, is being released from the high-security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana three years early for good behaviour in a 20 year sentence.

The quiet son of a middle-class couple living north of San Francisco, he converted to Islam at 16 years old and travelled in 1998 to Yemen to study Arabic.

In mid-2001, ostensibly drawn by stories of the mistreatment of Afghans, he enlisted in the Taliban's fight against the Northern Alliance.

After the US intervened in Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 attacks, Lindh was one of hundreds of Taliban fighters captured by Northern Alliance forces on November 25.

Once back in the US, Lindh was charged with multiple counts of terrorism and conspiracy to kill Americans, with politicians and generals demanding he be given the death penalty.

But in July 2002, he pleaded guilty to much-reduced charges of illegally aiding the Taliban and of carrying weapons and explosives and was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.

By most accounts, Lindh has clung firmly to his Islamic faith throughout his imprisonment.

He spent years with a few dozen other Muslim prisoners in the Communications Management Unit of the Terre Haute prison, where their contacts with outsiders and outside media are strictly controlled.

An internal 2017 report from the US National Counterterrorism Center, obtained by the Foreign Policy website, said that Lindh "continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts."

The claim was not supported by any public evidence, and court documents never portrayed Lindh supporting "global jihad."

Lindh's family and attorney remained silent ahead of his release, giving no hint of where he will go and what he will do.

But he will face extremely tough conditions in his three-year probation, including not being able to travel abroad and heavily restricted access to the Internet.

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