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As Recently as Four Years Ago, ‘American Taliban’ Suggested ISIS Was Just Misunderstood


Police file photo made available February 6, 2002 of the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh and at right a February 11, 2002 photograph of him as seen from the records of the Arabia Hassani Kalan Surani Bannu madrassa (religious school) in Pakistan’s northwestern city of Bannu.

So-called “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh was released from prison on Thursday, but an article in the Atlantic shows that Lindh remained interested in the Islamic State as recently as four years ago — even going so far as to suggest ISIS was misunderstood.

The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood sent letters to Lindh to ask for his advice on “jihadism, Islamic law, and the Islamic State.” Lindh wrote back to Wood (under the name Yahya Lindh). Lindh thanked Wood for his interest in the Islamic State, more commonly known these days as ISIS:

In order for me to even consider responding to your inquiry, I would require that you furnish me with books, treatises, articles, or other writings produced by leaders of the Islamic State and/or scholars affiliated with it (preferably in the original Arabic). It would not be appropriate for me to comment otherwise.

Thank you for your interest in the Islamic State.

In response, Wood sent a “big stack of essays, speeches, and fatwas by ISIS scholars” to the Terre Haute penitentiary for Lindh. The warden at the prison confiscated the package as ISIS propaganda. Lindh still wrote back to Wood, suggesting that ISIS was merely misunderstood:

Considering the attention that the Islamic State has attracted from the media, academics, researchers, and others over the past couple of years, it is striking to me how few appear to have actually visited the Islamic State to see how things really are there and to meet and interview its leaders … I would like to suggest that you visit the Islamic State yourself so that you can pose your questions directly to its officials and leaders. I am sure there are ways that that can be arranged.

After Wood worried that he might be enslaved or beheaded if he went out to interview ISIS leaders, Lindh said, “I understand your concerns about.” Even so, Lindh downplayed those concerns:

[H]owever I believe that your apprehensions are misplaced. The journalists who have been taken into custody by the authorities of the Islamic State travelled there illegally. Had they gone with the proper documentation, I am confident that the authorities of the Islamic State would have honoured their covenants, as required by Islamic law.

This is not the first time that Lindh has raised eyebrows over comments about his interest in “global jihad” while behind bars. The National Counterterrorism Center reported that Lindh “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts” and that he “told a television news producer that he would continue to spread violent extremist Islam upon his release.”

Lindh’s father, Frank Lindh, told Wood that his son was a political prisoner and his only ambitions are to become an Islamic scholar.

Lindh, dubbed the “American Taliban,” was released on Thursday after serving 17 years in prison. In 2002, Lindh accepted a plea deal from the government. He pleaded guilty to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying explosives in commission of a felony and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

President Donald Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Lindh’s release from prison was “unconscionable,” “deeply troubling” and “wrong.”

“[He is] still is threatening the United States of America [and was] still committed to the very jihad that he engaged in,” Pompeo said.

[Image via Tariq Mahmood/AFP/Getty Images]

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