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Friday, 4 October, 2002, 21:14 GMT 22:14 UK
'American Taleban' jailed for 20 years
Courtroom scene
Lindh made a deal with prosecutors
A US court has sentenced John Walker Lindh, the "American Taleban," to 20 years in jail for fighting for the ousted regime in Afghanistan.

"You made a bad choice to join the Taleban and to engage in that effort over there," District Judge T.S. Ellis told Lindh as he pronounced the sentence in Alexandria, Virginia.

Earlier, a tearful Lindh told the judge that he accepted full responsibility for serving with the Taleban and said he believed that terrorism could not be justified.

Courtroom drawing of John Walker Lindh
Lindh - pictured in a court drawing - said he did not intend to fight the US

In an emotional 20-minute statement, he said that if he had known the Taleban would be sheltering Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, he never would have joined it.

The 21-year-old from California had pleaded guilty in a deal agreed with prosecutors to lighten his sentence in return for his co-operation in the investigation into al-Qaeda.

Dirty, long-haired and unshaven, Lindh was captured by US forces near the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif last November after a violent uprising by Taleban and al-Qaeda prisoners.

Lieutenant-General Dan McNeill, who commands US forces in Afghanistan, said on Friday that hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters are still at large and he does not know when his troops will be able to withdraw.

He said that the campaign, which began almost a year ago, had gone better than expected.

In a separate development, US Attorney-General John Ashcroft announced that six people, five of them US citizens, had been charged with conspiring to wage war on America with al-Qaeda.

Four of those charged have been arrested in Oregon and Detroit while the other two remain at large overseas.

'I understand anger'

Expressing remorse for his actions, Lindh said: "I understand why so many Americans were angry when I was first discovered In Afghanistan. I realise many still are, but I hope in time that feeling will change."

He told the court he joined the Taleban to fight Northern Alliance atrocities in Afghanistan and never expected to be opposing Americans.

"I did not go to fight against America, and I never did."

Lindh's lawyers said he had never fired his weapon.

Lindh added: "I have never supported terrorism in any form and I never will.

"I made a mistake by joining the Taleban. Had I realised then what I know now, I would never have joined them."

John Walker Lindh
John Walker Lindh: Converted to lslam at 16
Lindh, together with other al-Qaeda prisoners, is reported to have told military and FBI interrogators that the 11 September hijackings were only the first of three planned attacks on the United States.

But the reports have not been corroborated, US officials said.

Quickly labelled "the American Taleban", Lindh admitted fighting with the Taleban against Northern Alliance forces and training at an al-Qaeda-associated camp.

At first prosecutors portrayed him as a traitor to his country, says BBC Washington correspondent Rob Watson.

But in the last few months his image has softened.

Offer to co-operate

Lindh is now seen more as a classic angst-ridden American teenager whose conversion to Islam took him to Yemen, Pakistan and finally Afghanistan.

Even President George W Bush expressed pity for Lindh, calling him "a poor misguided Marin County hot-tubber," alluding to his hippy-style upbringing.

In July, Lindh decided to plead guilty to collaborating with the Taleban and carrying weapons, and offered to co-operate with the investigation into al-Qaeda.

In return, prosecutors dropped the more serious charges against him and recommended a sentence of 20 years in prison rather than the life behind bars he was originally facing.

Lindh faced one charge of collaborating with the Taleban and another of carrying an assault rifle and grenades while fighting with the extremist regime.

Terror charges

In Washington on Friday, Attorney-General Ashcroft said that five of the six charged with al-Qaeda connections were US citizens and one had received US military training.

He said: "Portland and Detroit joint terrorism task forces arrested suspected terrorist cell members charged in engaging in a conspiracy to join al-Qaeda and to join Taleban forces fighting against the United States and allied soldiers in Afghanistan".

The men have been charged with conspiracy to levy war against the United States, conspiracy to provide material support for foreign terror groups, conspiracy to contribute services to al-Qaeda and the Taleban and possession of firearms.

"If convicted of these crimes, these defendants will face up to life in prison," Mr Ashcroft said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rob Watson reports from Washington
"He said he would never have joined the Taleban if he had known it was sheltering Osama bin Laden"
US District Attorney Paul McNaulty
"John Walker Lindh chose to fight with the Taleban"

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