February 6, 2002

American Taliban Fighter to Remain in Jail

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Reuters) -- American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh, described by a prosecutor as a ``committed terrorist'' who abandoned his country, was ordered on Wednesday to remain imprisoned while awaiting trial on charges of conspiring to kill Americans in Afghanistan.

Magistrate Judge W. Curtis Sewell rejected a request to release the 20-year-old Californian, ruling he posed a risk of fleeing the country and presented a danger to the community.

As Lindh sat impassively at the defense table with his parents in the packed courtroom, Sewell said the evidence belies the assertion made by the defense that Lindh was a ''loyal American.''

Lindh is facing a 10-count indictment that accuses him of conspiring to kill Americans, including civilians and military personnel, as well as conspiring and aiding Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

He faced the possibility of life in prison but the charges did not carry the death penalty.

Defense lawyer James Brosnahan argued Lindh should be released pending trial on the grounds that he was not dangerous.

``This young man has never been in trouble,'' Brosnahan said during the 45-minute hearing. ``He doesn't drink. He doesn't take drugs.''


Brosnahan called Lindh, who converted to Islam as a teenager a ``religious person. He follows the teachings of the church he has adopted.''

Prosecutor Randy Bellows replied that Lindh could not be trusted. ``He went there (abroad), first ostensibly to study and became a terrorist.'' Bellows called Lindh a front-line soldier with his fellow al Qaeda members and a ``committed terrorist.''

Bellows said Lindh expressed hostility toward the United States in e-mails and letters to his family, and that he refused to come back to this country, despite the entreaties of his parents. ``He just disappeared,'' Bellows said.

Another defense lawyer, George Harris, said there was no evidence that Lindh took any action against U.S. civilians or U.S. military forces.

Harris said Lindh has ``very strong ties'' to his family and to this country'' and that Lindh ``had every intention'' of completing his studies and then returning to the United States.

The judge agreed with the prosecutor. Sewell said Lindh had no ``gainful employment'' except from a three-week stint as a warehouse worker two years ago, has no assets and no ``social or economic stability.''


Sewell said there were insufficient family ties to warrant release of Lindh to his parents. He said Lindh had no contact with his family from June until his capture in early November.

Among the charges are that he conspired to contribute services to al Qaeda, contributed services to al Qaeda, conspired to supply services to the Taliban and used and carried firearms and destructive devices in crimes of violence.

Other charges are conspiring to kill Americans abroad, engaging in prohibited transactions with the deposed Taliban government that harbored bin Laden and providing support to two terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, which has been blamed by Washington for the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

After the hearing, Brosnahan called on Attorney General John Ashcroft to refrain from ``inappropriate'' comments about the case, saying Ashcroft had ``violated the standards of the Department of Justice'' in comments made announcing the indictments on Tuesday.

Ashcroft said it was ``extraordinary'' to charge a U.S. citizen in this case and added Lindh had ``allied himself with terrorists.''

Captured in the fall of Kunduz, Lindh was shot in the leg during a bloody prison uprising outside the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

Lindh was taken into custody by the U.S. military in Afghanistan in early December and flown last month to the United States to stand trial.

Lindh will formally enter a plea to the charges at an arraignment scheduled before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis on Monday. His father has proclaimed Lindh's innocence. A trial date could also be set at the Monday hearing.

Copyright 2002. Reuters. All rights reserved.

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