′American Taliban′ John Walker Lindh released from prison | News | DW | 23.05.2019
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'American Taliban' John Walker Lindh released from prison

A California man captured in 2001 fighting for the Taliban has been released from prison after nearly two decades in jail. But concerns remain as to whether he has abandoned his radical ideology.

John Walker Lindh came to be known as the "American Taliban" after he was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 fighting alongside the Taliban. The 38-year old was released on Thursday from the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.  

He had spent more than 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to providing support to the Taliban. The plea deal called for a 20-year sentence, but Lindh is getting out a few years early for good behavior.

Lindh is 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 attacks on September 11, 2001.

Read more: Afghanistan: Can peace prevail?

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Security fears

His release brought objections from US officials who fear he has not forsaken the radical ideology that took him to Afghanistan. 

"He still, as I understand it, still is threatening the United States of America and still committed to the very jihad that he engaged in that killed a great American and a great officer," said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

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.

Read more: US stops Taliban territory tracking in Afghanistan

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

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 also said Lindh wrote a letter to its Los Angeles station KNBC in 2015 expressing support for the so-called Islamic State terror group, saying the radical Islamist outfit was fulfilling "a religious obligation to establish a caliphate through armed struggle."

The reports about his still embracing jihadism will increase pressure on US authorities to maintain a full-time eye on him even after his release from prison.

Watch video 01:29

Forced conversions in Pakistan

sri,ls/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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