BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Spanish Portuguese Caribbean
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Americas  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Friday, 15 November, 2002, 12:17 GMT
Parents' grief for American Taleban
John Walker Lindh
Hate figure: John Walker Lindh as he is captured
How does a quiet teenager growing up in a wealthy California suburb end up being captured while fighting for the Taleban in Afghanistan just a few years later?

This and other questions about John Walker Lindh are set to be answered for the first time on television as his family tell their story in a BBC Two programme.

The film charts John Walker Lindh's path from child to convert and then his decision to become a holy warrior.

Transformation and belonging are key words in the journey of John Walker Lindh. Islam would offer him both.

John Walker Lindh
John's mother: "He was a carefree and loving child"
However his mother, Marilyn, remembers him as a carefree and loving child.

"He loved his stuffed toys, he loved being read to, he loved being cuddled, he was one of those huggy kids," she said.

Rohan Gunaratna, author of the book Inside Al-Qaeda was brought in to debrief John in prison this year.

With a unique insight in to John's thinking, Ms Gunaratna believes John was ready for the call.

"John like all other westerners who come into contact with these political and radicalised preachers and leaders get indoctrinated," she said.

"All of us are often moved by certain ideologies and John is not an exception.

"He gets carried away and he's more vulnerable because he's a Muslim and he is a Muslim in search of something.

"He has a vacuum, he has a void in his heart and he goes in search of that."

Suicide attacks

John Walker Lindh's parents Frank and Marilyn
John Walker Lindh's parents Frank and Marilyn
From America to Yemen, then to Afghanistan, Walker Lindh's family and lawyers defend and explain the steps he took.

The film brings to light his encounter with Osama Bin Laden and the knowledge that al-Qaeda was recruiting for suicide attacks abroad.

His notoriety was to come with the death of a fellow American, CIA Agent Mike Spann.

Spann had interrogated John Walker Lindh but died in a brutal massacre. John survived the same massacre.

To his captors, John Walker Lindh was the traitor who survived - unlike Mike Spann - the hero who was killed.

Brought back to America, John Walker Lindh was offered a plea bargain - 20 years if he cooperated in the war on terror.


He loved being cuddled, he was one of those huggy kids

John's mother
He agreed with one demand - the right to practise his faith.

His father remembers it to be the most important part of the deal for John.

"What was the very thing that inspired John? It was the Hajj. So the government says we will ask you never to travel outside the US as long as you live after you get out of this long prison sentence.

"John wouldn't agree to that, because he wouldn't be able to make his Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. So his lawyers were able to persuade the government to drop that demand."

Coming to terms with John's actions has been no easy process for the family, nor their ability to speak publically about it.

The programme's producer, Frank Smith, recalls how the family found it difficult to trust the BBC at first.

All of us are often moved by certain ideologies and John is not an exception

Writer Rohan Gunaratna

"For the family, the decision to talk to the BBC was a difficult one.

"For an America still mourning the victims of September 11, John Walker Lindh had come to represent the enemy and there was little trust between the family and the media.

"It was only after months of contact, that BBC Executive Producer Farah Durrani persuaded John's parents, Frank and Marilyn, and his brother Connell and sister Naomi to talk of John's journey to Afghanistan."

For John parents there is the endless question, asked by the world: how did this happen to their son? John's mother knows that he is a hate figure for many Americans, however she holds onto the memory of the child, and in Marilyn's mind John's 'essence remains'.

For Frank the experience was 'a nightmare', he bitterly regrets his son's decision to go to Afghanistan and the effect it has had on the family.

As for John Walker Lindh himself, he was 21 years old, an adult when he fought for the Taleban. But the question perhaps only he can answer; is whether it was a search for certainty and acceptance, which turned a shy and troubled boy into the American Taleban.

The American Taleban was shown on BBC Two on Sunday 17 November at 21:00 GMT.


Key stories

European probe

Background

IN DEPTH
See also:

24 Jan 02 | Americas
24 Jan 02 | Americas
16 Jan 02 | Americas
16 Jan 02 | Americas
14 Dec 01 | Americas
18 Jan 02 | Middle East
05 Dec 01 | Americas
Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes