Terre Haute, IN – The “American Taliban” who fought alongside terrorists in Afghanistan in the wake of the attacks of 9/11 was released early from prison on Thursday.
John Walker Lindh, 38, was discharged from a federal prison in Indiana on May 23 after serving 17 years of his 20-year sentence, NPR reported.
His sentence was discounted by three years for good behavior despite lawmakers' who were worried about the “security and safety implications” of releasing a home-grown terrorist who continued to “openly call for extremist violence” back into society, FOX News reported.
"There is something deeply troubling and wrong about this," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.
Lindh earned his nickname of the “American Taliban” when he was captured with other Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan in November of 2001, less than three months after terrorists crashed commercial airplanes and killed thousands of U.S. citizens in a coordinated attack.
He was part of a group of Taliban soldiers who surrendered to American forces only to perpetrate an uprising inside the military compound where they were being held that left Central Intelligence Agency Officer Mike Spann dead, NPR reported.
The Northern Californian switched from Catholicism and became a Muslim when he was 16.
He told the judge at his sentencing in 2002 that he became a soldier for the Taliban at the age of 20 because he supported its form of Islam, NPR reported.
Lindh said he had been prepared to fight the Taliban’s rivals in Afghanistan but never planned to fight against Americans.
"I have never understood jihad to mean anti-Americanism or terrorism. I condemn terrorism on every level, unequivocally," he told the court before he was sentenced.
But in the years that followed his imprisonment, Lindh expressed his continued support for the Taliban in communications with journalists, NPR reported.
U.S. Senators Richard C. Shelby (R-Alabama) and Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire) sent a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons before Lindh’s release seeking reassurance that there was a plan to prevent the “American Taliban” from committing additional crimes, according to The Washington Post.
“We must consider the security and safety implications for our citizens and communities who will receive individuals like John Walker Lindh, who continue to openly call for extremist violence,” the senators wrote.
But the family of Mike Spann, who consider their murdered loved one a victim of Lindh, openly expressed outrage at the terrorist’s early release.
Shortly before Spann was killed in the prisoner uprising, he interviewed the “American Taliban” but Lindh refused to answer any of his questions, according to FOX News.
“In those moments, when he chose to stay silent, he sealed his fate as a traitor to the United States,” Allison Spann, the hero’s daughter, said. “At any point, he could have warned him that something was being planned.”
Allison Spann also took to social media to publicize her outrage.
"I feel his early release is a slap in the face — not only to my father and my family, but for every person killed on Sept. 11th, their families, the U.S. military, U.S. intelligence services, families who have lost loved ones to this war and the millions of Muslims worldwide who don't support radical extremists,” she tweeted.
But experts have warned that Lindh’s release is only the first in what is going to be a wave of 9/11-related criminals becoming eligible for discharge over the next few years, NPR reported.
About 100 Americans who belonged to extremist groups are in line to be released from prison over the next four years, according to Michael Jensen, a senior researcher at START, a terrorism research center at the University of Maryland.
"This is a wave that's coming at us right now that we're not currently prepared to deal with," Jensen said. “So my hope with the Lindh case is that people look at it carefully, assess what his risks and what his needs are, and then we use that as a foundation to build on for future releases.”