WASHINGTON – John Walker Lindh, dubbed the “American Taliban” after his capture by US forces in Afghanistan in November 2001, was released from prison on Thursday after serving 17 years.
Lindh, now 38, was sentenced to 20 years in 2002 after pleading guilty to fighting alongside the Taliban against US forces. He got three years knocked off his sentence for good behavior, the Bureau of Prisons said.
Under the terms of his supervised release, Lindh will be barred for three years from having any “Internet capable” device without permission from his probation officer and any such device the former prisoner is authorized to use will be subject to monitoring.
Lindh cannot possess a passport and must obtain prior approval to communicate online in any language other than English.
Communications with known extremists are completely prohibited and Lindh may not so much as look at “material that reflects extremist or terroristic views.”
Born in Washington and raised near San Francisco, Lindh converted to Islam at 16 and moved to Yemen to learn Arabic after graduating from high school.
Two years later, he was in Pakistan and spent time with radical Islamists there before moving on to neighboring Afghanistan and joining the Taliban.
Because of his familiarity with Arabic, he gravitated to the al-Qaeda faction based in Afghanistan, led by Osama bin Laden.
Lindh told investigators that he met with Bin Laden on one occasion.
The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and American forces found Lindh in November in a detention camp near Mazar-e Sharif run by the coalition of anti-Taliban elements known as the Northern Alliance.
Lindh was in the camp during a mutiny by Taliban prisoners that resulted in hundreds of deaths, including that of CIA officer Johnny Michael Spann.
While Lindh acknowledged taking part in the uprising, US authorities never accused him of involvement in the death of Spann.
Amid evidence that Lindh had suffered mistreatment – possibly including torture – by his US captors, federal prosecutors eventually agreed to allow him to plead guilty to a reduced number of charges.
During his years in prison, Lindh became an activist for the rights of fellow Muslim inmates, winning the right to conduct group prayers.
Spann’s family and others have objected to Lindh’s early release on grounds that he has made comments indicating he continues to support violent jihad.
This week, an NBC television station in Los Angeles released excerpts from 2015 correspondence between Lindh and one of the station’s producers.
“The Islamic State is clearly very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation of establishing a caliphate through armed struggle, which is the only correct method,” Lindh ostensibly told the producer.