John Walker Lindh, who has been in a U.S. federal prison since he was captured by American troops in 2001 in Afghanistan, was released Thursday. Here is a look at the man called “The American Taliban.”
John Walker Lindh was born Feb. 9, 1981, in Washington to Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh, and named after former Beatle John Lennon. When he was 10, Lindh, the middle of three children, moved with his family to Marin County, one of California’s wealthiest counties and just north of San Francisco. He attended an elite alternative high school where students were allowed to shape their own studies.
Conversion to Islam
Lindh told FBI interrogators that he became interested in Islam at age 12 after watching the movie “Malcolm X,” which discussed Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and the hajj pilgrimage. At 16, he converted to Islam, using the names Suleyman al-Lindh and Suleyman al-Faris. In 1998, he asked his parents for money to travel to Yemen, which he considered the best country to learn the “pure” Arabic used in the Quran. He returned to California a year later but returned to Yemen in February 2000, a few days before his 19th birthday.
Move to extremism
Frank Lindh recalled an email exchange with his son in 2000 in which he told him about the bombing of the USS Cole. Lindh reportedly replied that the American naval destroyers being in the Yemen harbor had been an act of war, and that the bombing was justified. Lindh left Yemen to study at a madrassa (religious school) in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier province. He later moved to Afghanistan, where he spent time at an al-Qaida training camp. He told the FBI he spent seven weeks at the camp, which was about a two-hour bus ride from Kandahar, starting June 1, 2001. He said trainees spent three weeks getting familiar with weapons, one week studying maps and topography, one week on battlefield training, and one on explosives. Lindh said he met Osama bin Laden at the camp, who thanked him and others for fighting the jihad.
Capture and imprisonment
Lindh was captured Nov. 25, 2001, by U.S.-led coalition forces. While being held at a makeshift prison in a 19th-century fortress at Qala-i-Jangi in northern Afghanistan, Lindh was questioned by CIA agent Mike Spann. Lindh did not tell Spann he was American, and also failed to warn him about a revolt being planned by the prisoners. Spann and hundreds of foreign fighters were killed in the uprising. Lindh spent weeks in U.S. military custody after being captured. He was interrogated aboard the USS Bataan, a Navy warship in the North Arabian Sea, before being flown to the United States in 2002 to face trial. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and will have served 17 years of his sentence upon release.