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Lindh Faces Added Grand Jury Charges

RESPONSE TO TERROR

February 06, 2002|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A federal grand jury Tuesday indicted John Walker Lindh, leveling new charges that the young Northern Californian willingly shouldered a rifle at the behest of Osama bin Laden and was taught at an Al Qaeda training camp how to kill Americans.

The 10-count indictment significantly expands the government case filed last month against Lindh, presenting the most detailed view yet of his alleged involvement with terrorist elements in Afghanistan. Convictions on all counts could lead to multiple life prison terms without parole, but none of the charges carries a possible death sentence.

Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft called Tuesday's indictment a "timeline of terror" and said Lindh became "an active, knowing participant" in the war against America.

But that portrait differed sharply from the one drawn by Lindh's attorneys, who attacked the heart of the federal case against their client and argued that any self-incriminating statements he may have made were coerced while "he was in a state of complete exhaustion and shock."

The defense said that, in the days after the scrawny young man was captured, he was starved, blindfolded, stripped of his clothes, shackled, restrained with duct tape and held inside a cold metal container that "had no heat source, lighting or insulation, and Mr. Lindh was covered by only a single blanket."

The indictment sets aside a preliminary hearing that was scheduled for today and buys the government time before it must begin turning over crucial evidence and presenting court testimony in one of the most intriguing episodes of the war on terrorism.

The two sides are to meet this morning in federal district court in nearby Alexandria, Va., where Lindh will ask to be released on bail until his trial.

His father, Frank Lindh, a San Francisco energy lawyer, said he is prepared to move to the Washington area to provide a home for his son and will "take responsibility for him as a personal custodian."

The indictment was returned by the federal grand jury in Alexandria, where terrorist suspect Zacarias Moussaoui was indicted in December in a separate case. The government says Moussaoui was training in the United States to join 19 hijackers who commandeered airplanes on Sept. 11 for attacks on New York and near Washington.

The indictment was announced in Washington by Ashcroft.

'The Fact of These Choices Is Clear'

"John Walker Lindh chose to train with Al Qaeda, chose to fight with the Taliban, chose to be led by Osama bin Laden," the attorney general said. "The reasons for his choices may never be fully known to us. But the fact of these choices is clear. Americans who love their country do not dedicate themselves to killing Americans."

Ashcroft said that if convicted of all charges in the indictment, Lindh, 20, could receive six 10-year prison sentences and a 30-year sentence in addition to the multiple life terms--all without parole.

The indictment, however, stops short of accusing Lindh of treason, which could have brought a death sentence.

In a criminal complaint filed last month, the government filed three charges against Lindh: conspiring to kill Americans overseas, providing material support and resources to foreign terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda, and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban.

Tuesday's indictment included those charges, then went much further. The grand jury alleged that Lindh was trained by Al Qaeda and that he not only worked shoulder-to-shoulder with members of the Bin Laden organization and the Taliban but he also carried and used "firearms and destructive devices during crimes of violence."

The indictment alleges that:

* Lindh spent several days in a Bin Laden guest house in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in May or June. Then he joined 20 other trainees at the nearby Al-Farooq training camp, an Al Qaeda facility.

* At Al-Farooq, Lindh was told "that Bin Laden had sent forth some 50 people to carry out 20 suicide terrorist operations against the United States and Israel."

* Lindh himself met with a senior Al Qaeda official, Abu Mohammad Al-Masri, and was asked if he was interested in traveling outside Afghanistan to conduct operations against the U.S. and Israel. Lindh declined, saying he preferred "going to the front lines to fight."

* In June or July, "Lindh swore allegiance to jihad."

* By August, after completing his training, Lindh went to Kabul and was issued an AKM rifle with a barrel suitable for long-range firing. He carried the rifle to his fighting unit in northern Afghanistan and soon was hoisting other weapons as well, including an RPK rifle and at least two grenades.

* He soon learned of the Sept. 11 strikes but remained with his unit "despite having been told that Bin Laden had ordered the attacks, that additional terrorist attacks were planned and that additional Al Qaeda personnel were being sent from the training camps to the front lines to protect Bin Laden and defend against an anticipated military response from the United States."

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