World

NEW YORK – An American captured in Afghanistan in 2001 fighting for the Taliban was released from a US prison on Thursday after serving 17 years of a 20-year sentence, according to media reports.

John Walker Lindh, 38, who was dubbed as “American Taliban”, was released from the federal prison in Terre Haute in the US state of Indiana, three years early for good behaviour, according to CNN and Fox News.

Lindh, who was 20 years old when he was captured, is among dozens of prisoners to be released over 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 11, 2001.

His release brought objections from elected officials, who asked why Lindh was being freed early and what training parole officers had to spot radicalization and recidivism among former jihadists.

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.

Leaked US government documents published by Foreign Policy magazine show the federal government as recently as 2016 described Lindh as holding “extremist views”.

“What is the current inter-agency 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.

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 2002 sentencing, he said he traveled to Yemen to learn Arabic and then to Pakistan to study Islam.

He said he volunteered as a soldier with the Taliban, 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”.