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Neighbors Learn of ‘American Taliban’

December 3, 2001

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FAIRFAX, Calif. (AP) _ Word that a handful of Americans had fought alongside the Taliban came as a particular shock in Fairfax: One of them apparently spent his teen-age years in this wooded, hilly town north of San Francisco.

John Phillip Walker Lindh _ who gave his name in Afghanistan as Abdul Hamid _ was in the custody of U.S. forces after being discovered among captured Taliban troops and al-Qaida fighters. He was being treated for undisclosed injuries.

His capture was made-to-order conversation Monday at the cafes in Fairfax. Neighbors wondered aloud whether Walker was an impressionable kid who lost his way or an ideologue who found it.

``If he was pointing a gun at any of my soldier friends, put him on trial,″ said Russell Decker, 51, a local guitarist. ``If not, put him in a mental ward and bring him home.″

Another local musician, Neil Lavin, saw Walker’s path to Afghanistan as a spiritual quest.

``I can’t see him as being unpatriotic. This is where his journey led him,″ said Lavin, 32. ``I imagine he lost himself there. Or found himself.″

Walker told Newsweek after his capture that he had entered Afghanistan to help the Taliban build a ``pure Islamic state.″ His parents said he had long been fascinated with Islam _ he converted at 16 _ and had a pacifist’s heart for social justice.

There was no answer when a visitor knocked at Marilyn Walker’s house Monday. Neither Marilyn Walker nor Frank Lindh returned calls.

Marilyn Walker told Newsweek her son was raised Catholic but converted several years after moving from Silver Spring, Md. Up the road from his two-story house in Fairfax is a Sufi mosque, though a man there said he had not heard of Walker until reporters began calling Monday.

Walker transferred from a local high school after his first semester to Tamiscal High, an alternative school in nearby Larkspur.

Tamiscal principal Marcie Miller said teachers called Walker ``a gifted writer of poetry.″ As a freshman and sophomore, his curriculum had a world arts and culture theme, including studies of Islam and the Middle East.

Walker took the proficiency test and graduated early in 1998, said Laurie Samera, an assistant to the superintendent.

She said he asked that the name on his diploma be changed to Suleyman Al-Lindh.

His parents then paid for him to travel to Yemen to study Arabic. They lost track of him in April, after he moved on to Pakistan, where he studied the Quran at a religious school.

Marilyn Walker told Newsweek she wondered whether her son had been brainwashed by the Taliban. Some of his neighbors who meet each morning at the Koffee Klatch diner surmised the same.

``He’s just a kid. He don’t know what he’s doing. He’s just like Patty Hearst,″ said Lou Vaccaro, 70, likening Walker to the newspaper heiress who was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army and began robbing San Francisco Bay area banks in the 1970s. ``They got pulled in and they can’t get out.″

Bob Sharpe, 56, a Vietnam veteran and writer, said he expected a lot of legal handwringing over what to do with the so-called ``American Taliban.″ Does the U.S. government have jurisdiction over his fate, or the Northern Alliance? Should he be forgiven?

``I think he needs to be arrested and interrogated,″ Sharpe said. ``And I think a lot depends on his attitude.″

Andrew Cleverdon, 19, grew up across the street from Walker in Virginia. He said Walker didn’t have any particular fascination with the military.

``I would hate to be in his shoes right now,″ Cleverdon said. ``I was little shocked.″

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