‘American Taliban’ John Walker Lindh released from prison, say media reports

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John Walker Lindh, the US Muslim convert who came to be known as the “American Taliban” after being captured while fighting in Afghanistan in 2001, was released from prison after serving 17 years, US media reported.

CNN and The Washington Post reported his early morning release from the federal high security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, citing his lawyer, Bill Cummings, according to AFP.

Cummings told CNN that 38-year-old Lindh - photographed as a wild-eyed, bearded 20-year-old at his Afghanistan capture - still suspected by some of harboring radical views, will settle in Virginia under strict probation terms that limit his ability to go online or contact any other extremists.

Now 38, Lindh was among dozens of prisoners set to be released over the next few years after being captured in Iraq and Afghanistan by US forces and convicted of terrorism-related crimes following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

His release brought objections from elected officials who asked why Lindh was being freed early and what training parole officers had to spot radicalization and recidivism among former militants.

Leaked US government documents published by Foreign Policy magazine show the federal government as recently as 2016 described Lindh as holding “extremist views.”

“What is the current interagency policy, strategy, and process for ensuring that terrorist/extremist offenders successfully reintegrate into society?” asked US Senators Richard Shelby and Margaret Hassan in a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Lindh’s parents Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lindh’s lawyer Bill Cummings declined to comment.

A combination of pictures of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh taken in 2002. (AFP)
A combination of pictures of “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh taken in 2002. (AFP)

US-born Lindh converted from Catholicism to Islam as a teenager. At his 2002 sentencing, he said he traveled to Yemen to learn Arabic and then to Pakistan to study Islam. He said he volunteered as a Taliban soldier to help fellow Muslims in their struggle or “jihad.”

He said he had no intention “to fight against America” and never understood jihad to mean anti-Americanism. Lindh told the court he condemned “terrorism on every level” and attacks by al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden were “completely against Islam.”

But a January 2017 report by the US government’s National Counterterrorism Center, published by Foreign Policy, said that as of May 2016, Lindh “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.”

NBC said Lindh wrote a letter to its Los Angeles station KNBC in 2015 expressing support for ISIS, saying the group was fulfilling “a religious obligation to establish a caliphate through armed struggle.”