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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 07:00 GMT
Enigma of 'American Taleban'
John Walker Lindh, American who joined the Taleban
There are mixed feelings in the US for their 20-year-old Taleban
By the BBC's Maggie Shiels

Communities in northern California are baffled at how John Walker Lindh, dubbed the "American Taleban", made the leap from hard-working student to self-styled holy warrior.

Mr Walker Lindh was taken into custody by US forces following a bloody prison uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif in November.

John Walker Lindh
John Walker Lindh grew up in northern California
A videotape was released earlier of him being questioned by CIA paramilitary officer Johnny "Mike" Spann. Mr Spann was later killed in that prison uprising.

Before being returned to the US, the 20-year-old Californian was held in a shipping container surrounded by barbed wire at the US Marines forward base - Camp Rhino in Afghanistan - where he was recovering from a gunshot wound.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has not said what legal actions the government will take against Mr Walker Lindh and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused to comment when asked if he had betrayed his country.

Hippie solidarity

While the rest of the nation has clearly labelled Mr Walker Lindh a traitor deserving the death penalty, the people in Marin County where he lived are trying hard not to judge the young man.

We don't know his heart or his mind, let alone the facts of what moved him

Meredith Maran,

Marin is just north of San Francisco and is often scorned for its liberal attitude and hippie-laden values about personal growth.

"We don't know his heart or his mind, let alone the facts of what moved him," says Meredith Maran, a best-selling Bay area writer who specialises in family and youth issues.

Nahshon Nahumi, who repairs backyard hot tubs in the hills above Mr Walker Lindh's mother's house, told the local paper: "I don't think it's a big deal for young people to have weird ideas. My concern is more for his well-being, to help him recover."

John Walker Lindh
Some Americans want him executed

Others coming to his defence include Abdulla Nana, a 23-year-old fellow Muslim who is a close friend and prayed with Mr Walker Lindh at the local Islamic Centre in Marin.

"He's a gentle person. I wouldn't have expected him to go and fight there. Whether he has done something wrong is not for me to say. God will judge a person's actions in the hereafter," he says.

'Execute him'

But not everyone is flying the flag for Mr Walker Lindh. A December 2001 poll on the San Francisco Chronicle's website shows that 60% of the 2,038 people volunteering opinions believe he should be executed.

He gave us up, he gave up on his country. I think the young man's pretty much doomed. There's no way his parents could save him from this

Don Jackson,

"Neither his American citizenship, nor his small legion of US sympathisers can bail him out of this predicament," the Chronicle wrote in an editorial last week that described Mr Walker Lindh as "the enemy".

Just how helpful he is to US forces should determine what happens to him, claims local resident Chip Gow, while butcher Don Jackson favours tough measures for the so-called American Taleban.

"He gave us up, he gave up on his country. I think the young man's pretty much doomed. There's no way his parents could save him from this."

See also:

05 Dec 01 | Americas
US shocked by American Taleban
03 Dec 01 | South Asia
America's home-grown Taleban fighter
01 Dec 01 | South Asia
Fort revolt: What really happened?
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Meeting Taleban's foreign fighters
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