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  1. ITV Report

Family's anger as 'American Taliban' John Walker Lindh is released after 17 years in prison

John Walker Lindh was captured in 2001 fighting in Afghanistan Credit: AP

The daughter of Mike Spann, who was killed in Afghanistan during an uprising of Taliban prisoners, has spoken out for the first time to condemn the early jail release of an American who fought with Al Qaeda.

John Walker Lindh, who became known as the American Taliban after his battlefield capture in Afghanistan in November 2001, has been released from prison.

The 38-year-old from California has spent more than 17 years in prison after pleading guilty to providing support to the Taliban.

Lindh was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison, but he is being released 3 years early for good behaviour.

His release has been opposed by both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill because of recent reports that he still holds extremist views.

And there are those too who have very personal reasons to object to Lindh’s early release.

Emily Spann, Mr Spann's daughter, has branded Lindh a "traitor" before adding that his release is a "stab in the back".

John Walker Lindh's release from prison is a threat to the public because it's basically a rallying cry for other terrorists or people that want to kind of act like that because he has proven that an American can move overseas, train with the enemy, fight with the enemy, be an accomplice to the murder of Americans and be released from prison in 17 years.

– Emily Spann
Mike Spann with his daughters Emily (left), Alison, and son Jake. Credit: Spann family

Ms Spann added: "Some people want to call it a slap in the face, it's a stab in the back.

"He is a traitor before anything else, people need not forget that.

She continued: "Again you expect the enemy to play dirty, you're not surprised when they do something to hurt you, that's the way that it works but when somebody from your own side turns your back on you that hits harder."

Speaking to ITV News, Mr Spann's father Johnny Spann said: "I can't believe that they are going to turn him out on the streets and put him back out into American society if he still got the same thoughts and those same kind of actions.

"He's evidently not denounced his terrorist activities, and has actually said that."

In November 2001, CIA agent Johnny "Mike" Spann interviewed Lindh in prison in Afghanistan.

Shortly after the interview, there was an uprising by Taliban prisoners and Mr Spann was killed, becoming the first US casualty of the war in Afghanistan.

Lindh left Terre Haute prison on Thursday after spending 17 years in jail. Credit: CBS

Lindh was originally charged with conspiring to kill Mike Spann, but he denied being involved. Instead he accepted a plea deal, admitting to supplying information and services to the Taliban.

Now, nearly 18 years after Mike Spann’s death, the CIA agent’s family are adamant Lindh should not be released because he still harbours radical beliefs.

In a letter he wrote to journalists in 2015, John Walker Lindh expressed support for ISIS, saying the terrorist group was “doing a spectacular job.”

And a 2016 report by US intelligence officials stated that he “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.”

Lindh’s release highlights a growing problem for the US government: What to do with prisoners of the 2001 War on Terror who are now ready for release.

  • Seamus Hughes: "'It's going to come down to what Lindh wants to do with this very public persona"

Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s program on extremism, told ITV News there is no programme in place in the US for people who have been imprisoned for terrorist charges or a de-radicalisation programme within prison.

He says convicted terrorists have become a "bug-light for future jihadists" when they are released from prison.

"They see them as somebody who spent their time, served the cause well and should be respected and it's going to come down to what Lindh wants to do with this very public persona," Mr Hughes said.

Lindh converted to Islam when he was 16 and moved to Yemen, Pakistan and then Afghanistan to an Al Qaeda training camp. He even claimed to have met Osama Bin Laden.

His release comes with restrictions.

Lindh’s internet devices and usage will be monitored, he is not allowed to possess or view extremist material, and he cannot leave the U.S.

A judge recently imposed additional restrictions on Lindh’s post-release supervision, including monitoring of his internet use.

When he was discovered in 2001, he was among captured Taliban troops and al-Qaida fighters who had been holed up for six days in a basement of the Qalai Janghi fort.

They had been hiding from northern alliance soldiers who had put down a riot by Taliban prisoners in the fortress.

The Taliban and foreign fighters who revolted at Qalai Janghi had been brought to the fortress after surrendering the northern Afghan city of Kunduz to northern alliance fighters.

At the time of his capture, his mother Marilyn Walker described her son as a "sweet, shy kid" who had gone to Pakistan with an Islamic humanitarian group to help the poor, she told Newsweek.

"If he got involved in the Taliban, he must have been brainwashed," Marilyn Walker, a home health care worker, said.

"He was isolated. He didn't know a soul in Pakistan. When you're young and impressionable, it's easy to be led by charismatic people."