John Walker Lund belonged to a middle-class Catholic family in the Mill Valley area north of San Francisco, but the world knows him as the “American Taliban.”
After the 9/11 attacks on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush launched the “War on Terror.” Based on this, John Walker was the first American citizen to be arrested on terrorism charges.
He was arrested in Afghanistan, where he was part of a foreign military unit of the Taliban. The image of this white bearded man shook the world.
“I plead guilty,” he said in a July 2002 statement. From August to December last year, I served as a soldier in the Taliban. I did it voluntarily and I knew it was illegal.
He had agreed with the prosecution that he would be sentenced to 20 years in prison instead of life imprisonment.
So why did this young man from California join the Taliban and how did he spend so much time in the military camps backed by Osama bin Laden?
From Malcolm X to Osama bin Laden
Despite being raised in a Catholic home, John Walker began converting to Islam at an early age.
According to his father, Frank Lund, at the age of 12, John saw a Malcolm X movie that included scenes of pilgrims arriving in Mecca.
“He was in trouble at the time,” Imam Abdullah Nana of the Milli Wali Islamic Center told the BBC in a 2011 interview. They did not understand where in the world they should go. He felt that the closeness of Islam and religion would give him spiritual peace.
He said that John had contacted his organization and after some time he had converted to Islam. Then he decided to learn Arabic and memorize the Qur’an.
At the age of 17, John was allowed by his parents to go to Yemen to learn Arabic.
He then returned to California and returned to Yemen after a few months. There he asked his father if he could go to Pakistan to complete his studies.
His father replied, “I have confidence in your decision and I hope you have a good journey.”
In Pakistan, John enrolled in a religious seminary in Bannu, then NWFP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), from where he turned to extremism.
He decided to move to Afghanistan in June 2001 without informing his parents. With the help of an armed group, he was trained for two months in a military training camp called Al-Farooq. The camp was funded by Osama bin Laden.
He met Osama bin Laden twice that summer, but John’s father says his son had nothing to do with terrorism.
“He was one of the thousands of young Muslims who offered to go to Afghanistan against Russian-backed militants,” Frank told the BBC in a 2011 interview.
During the trial of John Walker, the assistant attorney general said he did not believe the young man was completely isolated from terrorism.
He told the BBC in 2011 that he had gone to fight for a government that opposed the United States and supported the 9/11 attacks. It’s not a betrayal, but I would say it’s very close. “
The effects of 9/11
In early September 2001, John Walker was part of a 75-strong Afghan Army unit based in the northeastern province of Takhar.
Then everything changed. After the 9/11 attacks, the US military intervened in Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban government.
Within a few weeks, airstrikes began in the country and John’s unit began to return. They trekked through the Kunduz desert and then surrendered to the Northern Alliance.
They were transferred to Qala-e-Jangi near Mazar-e-Sharif, which was managed by Afghan fighter General Abdul Rashid Dostum.
Here was the war in Afghanistan, which was probably the bloodiest in the war. Taliban prisoners tried to escape, but hundreds were killed. Some CIA agents were also killed in the fighting, who were supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban government.
John Walker was shot in the leg but took refuge in the basement with several survivors.
According to eyewitnesses, Dostum’s troops fired grenades through air ducts and rained cold water on their enemies to drown them. Many prisoners died during this time.
John had multiple wounds on his body and was suffering from hypothermia. He managed to escape in December 2001 and was captured by US troops.
Shortly afterwards, news of his capture spread around the world and he came to be known as the ‘American Taliban’.
For about seven months, John’s parents did not hear from him. Then suddenly they recognized John by watching him on TV.
John was taken to Camp Rhino, a U.S. base about 190 kilometers southwest of Kandahar. According to his father, he “kept John in a blanket in the desert for two nights without clothes” and for a few days he was not given medical attention.
In the United States, meanwhile, his mother, Marilyn Walker, complained of “unstoppable storms” of negative media coverage.
The attorney general called John a terrorist and said he was trained by al-Qaeda, which “conspired with the Taliban to kill its fellow citizens.”
His father, Frank, told the BBC: “This picture was hidden in people’s minds when they were heartbroken after 9/11 and they were mourning.”
In this situation, not getting life imprisonment was no less than a miracle. The prosecution initially sought life imprisonment for him.
But he was apparently helped by photographs taken after his capture. They show how US troops treated them after their capture.
These images are published in Toby Harden’s book First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avengers 9/11. It describes the CIA’s first post-9/11 mission in Afghanistan, in which John was arrested.
From imprisonment to release
According to the book, the American agent initially considered John “Irish” because John refused to talk to him. Another prisoner told the soldiers that John had come from Ireland.
After the prisoners escaped from the fort, a doctor said that John was an American citizen.
US agents snapped a group photo with John.
John became a prize trophy for US agents after the term “American Taliban” became commonplace about him.
When John was being taken from Mazar-e-Sharif to Camp Rhino, US agents decided to blindfold him, but he also wrote an insult on the bandage.
Commenting on the photo, many said John had been abused. The photo was also used by John’s lawyers and has now been published in the book.
Other images taken at Camp Rhino show John naked on a stretcher, handcuffed and blindfolded.
His lawyers used the photos to accuse John of ill-treatment and demanded that the statements he recorded at Camp Rhino be fired because he had been pressured.
According to Harndon’s book, in those statements, John allegedly confessed to the FBI that he had received training from al-Qaeda during the winter and was to be sent to the United States.
However, these statements were of no value when he entered into an agreement with the public prosecutor’s office, which required him to plead guilty on the basis of only two charges. As a result, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
When he was convicted in 2002, he said he condemned “terrorism at all levels” and that he had made a mistake by supporting the Taliban. Adopted an extremist attitude.
This led to controversy in 2019 when, after 17 years in prison, it became clear that he would benefit from parole.
John was released from prison in mid-May 2019, but was subject to a number of restrictions, including a ban on using the Internet and traveling.
It is unknown at this time what he will do after leaving the post.