Mother: U.S. Taliban fighter 'must have been brainwashed'
SHEBERGHAN, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Friends and family members of a wounded American who fought for the Taliban and survived a recent prison uprising in Afghanistan expressed shock and confusion Monday, and his mother said he "must have been brainwashed."
The man, John Walker, was in the custody of U.S. Special Forces somewhere in Afghanistan, U.S. military officials at Central Command in Tampa, Florida, said.
Walker, 20, said this past weekend he joined the forces aligned with Osama bin Laden as a volunteer because his "heart became attached to them" after studying their movement.
His father, Frank Lindh, called his son "a sweet kid" who was very devoted and committed to his conversion to Islam. He said he was proud of Walker's dedication to studying the Koran and thought his conversion had been good for him.
Lindh said he did not know his son was in Afghanistan until he saw him on television.
"I had no indication or reason to be concerned that he would put himself in danger like this by going to Afghanistan," Lindh told CNN's Larry King Live.
Lindh said he and his family are anxious to see Walker as soon as possible, but he did not know where his son was being held.
"I want to give him a big hug, I also want to give him a little kick in the butt for not telling me what he was up to and not getting my permission, because I would not have given him permission to go to Afghanistan," he said.
His mother, Marilyn Walker, told Newsweek magazine that her son was a "sweet, shy kid" with an interest in helping poor people and maybe going into medicine as a profession.
"If he got involved with the Taliban, he must have been brainwashed," she said.
Walker's parents are divorced, and he uses his mother's last name. He was raised in Northern California.
Lindh said he had hired an attorney for his son and that he did not know whether Walker would face charges.
"I don't know of any information, any suggestion, any information indicating that he has done anything wrong," Lindh said. "And therefore I hope John can be debriefed by the government and come on home."
Lindh said he had read reports that Walker was armed when he was captured. Bill Jones, a family friend in San Rafael, California, described Walker as a "very sweet, unassuming, very spiritual young man -- rather frail, not an All-American football player or anything like that, certainly not a fighter."
"The parents are very, very upset and very confused because what they saw on CNN was frightening," Jones said. "They hadn't seen or heard from him in seven months, and they were desperate.
"They were afraid he was hurt or in the hospital. They tried to get a hold of him. They couldn't, and so to see him lying on the hospital floor with his blackened face and his eyes rolling into his skull really frightened them."
Marcie Miller, principal of Temescal High School in Larkspur, California, said Monday that a John Lindh participated in a program for highly motivated students in 1997. Miller said the student requested that his name be listed as "Suleyman Al-Lindh" on a certificate for passing the California High School Proficiency exam.
Hid in fortress basement
Walker was among those in last week's prison uprising near Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, in which hundreds of Taliban prisoners and a CIA operative were killed.
Authorities ended the threat by flooding the garrison's cellar Friday night. More than 80 Taliban fighters emerged Saturday morning and surrendered to members of the Northern Alliance, according to the Red Cross. The Red Cross had suspended collecting bodies from the compound Thursday when armed Taliban began shooting at rescue workers, killing one and wounding two others.
Walker said he had been hiding in the fortress' basement for seven days and had not eaten.
He described himself as a convert to Islam and a "jihadi" -- fighter of holy wars. He added that he had lived in northwest Pakistan and joined the Taliban six months ago.
In describing how the Taliban prison revolt began, he said, "Somehow they started fighting, starting with a grenade; then one of them grabbed a Kalashnikov from one of the [Alliance Gen. Abdul Rashid] Dostum army forces, and so the fighting began. Eventually they took some heavy weapons, and they took control of a weapons storage house."
Walker said he left home at 18, studying Arabic in Yemen, and then traveled to northwest Pakistan, where he studied Islam and came into contact with Taliban supporters.
He went to the Afghan capital, Kabul, where, because he did not speak the local languages, the Taliban urged him to join the forces supported and funded by bin Laden, he said.
Walker said he followed their advice, going to a training camp in Afghanistan where bin Laden appeared several times. He said he learned to fire a Kalashnikov.
Walker said he then was sent to the Kashmir region, where he fought with Pakistanis against Indians, and returned to Afghanistan for another month of training.
He said he has been in Afghanistan for six months, speaking only Arabic.
When the U.S. bombardment began, he said he fled 100 miles on foot to Konduz, where he was one of more than 3,000 Taliban soldiers taken prisoner in the garrison.
He said he intended to surrender but was drawn into battle when one of his comrades threw a grenade. After taking a bullet in his upper-right thigh, he fled to the basement bunker, where he and dozens of other Taliban remained for seven days. During that time, gasoline was poured into the basement and ignited, and grenades were exploded.
He and the remaining survivors did not emerge until Northern Alliance forces diverted an irrigation stream into the bunker, flushing out the survivors.
Walker, a thin man of about 5 feet 10 inches, described the basement as a dungeon and said it was full of dead bodies.
Walker was among three truckloads of prisoners -- most of them wounded or dead -- who had emerged or been taken from the basement. U.S. Special Forces soldiers took Walker to a warm place and assisted in getting him medical treatment.
Lindh said Walker had been quoted as saying he approved of the September 11 attacks, but he said his son must have been disturbed by the ordeal.
"All I can say is I don't think his mind was working -- I don't think he was thinking straight at that moment." Lindh said. "I just ask that people have a little mercy and think about what he went through before he made that statement."
-- CNN Correspondent Robert Pelton contributed to this report.
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