John Walker Lindh, the American captured in Afghanistan in 2001 fighting for the Taliban and who is now an Irish citizen, was freed early from federal prison on Thursday after serving 17 years, the US federal bureau of prisons said.
Lindh, who was 20 years old when he was captured, was released amid concerns about his rehabilitation.
Lindh, now 38, left the prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, Thursday morning. He had been sentenced to 20 years after pleading guilty in 2002 to charges of supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony.
Lindh is being released under strict conditions, including a bar on travelling internationally and getting a passport or any other kind of travel document.
The travel ban thwarts any immediate possibility of his moving to Ireland, whose citizenship he acquired while in prison through his father's mother, who was born in Donegal.
Lindh is among dozens of prisoners to be released during the next few years after being captured in Iraq and Afghanistan and convicted of terrorism-related crimes following the attacks on the United States by al Qaeda on September 11th, 2001.
His release brought objections from elected officials who asked why Lindh was being freed early and what training parole officers had to spot radicalisation and recidivism among former jihadists.
Leaked US government documents published by Foreign Policy magazine show the federal government as recently as 2016 described Lindh as holding “extremist views.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Lindh’s release “unexplainable and unconscionable.”
“There’s something deeply troubling and wrong about it,” he said on Fox News on Thursday morning.
"What is the current interagency policy, strategy, and process for ensuring that terrorist/extremist offenders successfully reintegrate into society?" asked US Senators Richard Shelby and Margaret Hassan in a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The bureau said in a statement that it does not share details of specific inmates’ release plans but that it does have policies for monitoring parolees with ties to terrorism.
During his supervised release, Lindh will not be allowed to possess any internet-capable device with out prior permission from his probation officer, and any such device must be monitored continuously, according to court documents.
He is not allowed to hold a passport, communicate with known extremists or have any online communications in any language other than English unless otherwise approved. He also must undergo mental health counselling, court documents showed.
Lindh's parents, Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh, did not respond to requests for comment and Lindh's lawyer, Bill Cummings, declined to comment.
US-born Lindh converted from Catholicism to Islam as a teenager. At his sentencing in 2002, he said he travelled to Yemen to learn Arabic and then to Pakistan to study Islam.
Lindh said he volunteered as a soldier with the Taliban, the radical Sunni Muslim group that ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, to help fellow Muslims in their struggle or “jihad.” He said he had no intention “to fight against America” and never understood jihad to mean anti-Americanism.
Lindh told the court he condemned “terrorism on every level” and attacks by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden were “completely against Islam”.
But a January 2017 report by the US government’s National Counterterrorism Centre, published by Foreign Policy, said that, as of May 2016, Lindh “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.”
NBC News reported that Lindh wrote a letter to its Los Angeles station KNBC in 2015 expressing support for Islamic State, saying the Islamic militant group was fulfilling “a religious obligation to establish a caliphate through armed struggle.” - Reuters/New York Times