‘American Talib’ Lindh released amid concerns

Updated May 24, 2019

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A correction vehicle patrol the perimeter of the Federal Correction Complex where John Walker Lindh was released in Terre Haute, Indiana, US on May 23, 2019. — Reuters
A correction vehicle patrol the perimeter of the Federal Correction Complex where John Walker Lindh was released in Terre Haute, Indiana, US on May 23, 2019. — Reuters

Terre Haute (US): John Walker Lindh, the American captured in Afghanistan in 2001 fighting for the Taliban, was freed early from federal prison on Thursday after serving 17 years, the Federal Bureau of Prisons said. Lindh, who was 20 years old when he was captured, was released amid concerns about his rehabilitation.

Lindh, now 38, left the prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, Thursday morning. He had been sentenced to 20 years after pleading guilty in 2002 to charges of supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony.

Lindh is among dozens of prisoners to be released during the next few years after being captured in Iraq and Afghanistan and convicted of terrorism-related crimes following the attacks on the United States by Al Qaeda on Sept. 11, 2001.

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

Leaked US government documents published by Foreign Policy magazine show the federal government as recently as 2016 described Lindh as holding “extremist views”. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Lindh’s release “unexplainable and unconscionable”. “There’s something deeply troubling and wrong about it,” he said on Fox News on Thursday morning.

The bureau said in a statement that it does not share details of specific inmates’ release plans but that it does have policies for monitoring parolees with ties to terrorism.

US-born Lindh converted from Catholicism to Islam as a teenager. At his sentencing in 2002, he said he traveled to Yemen to learn Arabic and then to Pakistan to study Islam.

Lindh said he volunteered as a soldier with the Taliban to help fellow Muslims in their struggle. 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”.

Published in Dawn, May 24th, 2019