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Lindh E-Mails Unsympathetic

RESPONSE TO TERROR

Suspect: Bail is denied to American Talib. Prosecutors release messages in which he evinces no sorrow for past victims of terror.

February 07, 2002|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — John Walker Lindh was denied bail Wednesday on charges of taking up arms against the United States, as prosecutors unveiled a string of e-mails he sent to his family in California renouncing his citizenship and offering no sympathy for Americans killed in past terrorist attacks.

Although there was little expectation that Lindh would be freed pending his trial, the tenor of the e-mails and other communication with his family apparently wasn't lost on U.S. Magistrate W. Curtis Sewell as he denied the request that Lindh be released to his father's custody.

"The defendant has every incentive to flee," Sewell said. "While it may be argued or stated today that the defendant is a loyal American, the evidence before the court belies that assertion."

Indeed, a new picture of the 20-year-old Lindh emerges from his Internet writings abroad--that of a Marin County teenager who seemed to find a home in the Middle East while also denouncing his American upbringing. He urged his mother to leave the United States. "I really don't know what your big attachement [sic] to America is all about," he wrote in one e-mail. "What has America ever done for anybody?"

He appeared to have such a low regard for the U.S. government that he said the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa were "more likely to have been carried out by the American government than by any Muslims."

In his final e-mail home before allegedly entering a terrorist training camp, he told his family that his new life "really makes me look upon American society with pity."

In the courtroom, Lindh gave no sign he knew his parents were sitting behind him. When the 45-minute detention hearing ended, he walked out briskly without acknowledging their presence.

In asking that Lindh be released, lead defense lawyer James J. Brosnahan characterized his client not as a terrorist but as a soldier.

"He never fought with Al Qaeda," the San Francisco lawyer said. "He never signed up for terrorist activity. He never had anything to do with terrorist activity."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Randy L. Bellows disagreed. "John Lindh is a committed terrorist. He not only talked the talk but he walked the walk, carried hand grenades, carried shoulder weapons. Took up [on the] front line with what he called his Al Qaeda brothers. He can only be viewed by this court as the most dangerous sort of person."

Sewell concluded that Lindh not only is a danger to the community but also is "likely" to abscond. The judge further noted that Lindh has "no social or economic stability" and "no assets or liabilities."

"His record of gainful employment," the judge said, "is limited to a three-week stint of warehouse work some two years ago."

The government court filing Wednesday outlined Lindh's movements from California to the Middle East and finally Afghanistan, where he was captured in November. The filing centered on e-mails and letters home to his family. Prosecutors used that communication to show that Lindh was so estranged from his parents that it was ludicrous to allow him to live now with his father.

Other new evidence showed that Lindh told an FBI interrogator he had been given three weeks of weapon training and one week of training on topography. He was taught how to wear battlefield camouflage, to hold defensive positions and to handle explosives, primarily "grenades and Molotov cocktails."

Lindh also allegedly told the FBI agent that he wanted to be a martyr and that, when his unit was told of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, "they were ordered to dig bunkers and trenches because the American bombers would soon be arriving."

Questioned further, Lindh said that the Sept. 11 attacks, along with the 2000 bombing of the destroyer Cole in Yemen that killed 17 U.S. sailors, were incidents that "happen in war." Prosecutors, in summarizing the interrogation, added that Lindh "also stated that he agreed with the bombing of the USS Cole and stated that the Pentagon was a good target."

But it was the e-mails and letters from Lindh, written during his long idyll on the other side of the world, that seemed to tell the most about his thinking. Neither prosecutors nor the defense would discuss how the government obtained the correspondence.

Lindh left America in May 1998 to pursue Islamic studies in the Middle East. After repeatedly refusing pleas from his family that he come home, he did return in 1999, only to leave again in 2000.

In a March 1, 2001, e-mail to his mother, Marilyn Walker, he complained that "I wasted 9 months in America in which I achieved nothing and forgot much of what I had learned while in Yemen."

He said he was "busy in my studies and I have no intention of interrupting them for any reason in the near future."

The following month, he again rebuffed his mother's requests to visit home. "I don't intend to leave Pakistan until I finish what I came here for," he told her.

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