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"American Taliban" heads to court over right to group prayer

August 27, 2012|By Paloma Esquivel
  • Undated handout photos of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh. Photo at left was made available Feb. 6, 2002, by the Alexandria, Va.'s Sheriff's Department. Photo at right is from the record of an Islamic religious school in Pakistan that Walker Lindh attended.
Undated handout photos of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh.… (AFP )

A trial to determine whether "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh and other Muslims in a special prison unit can pray together is set to begin Monday in a federal court in Indianapolis.

The lawsuit against the Federal Correction Institution in Terre Haute, Ind., was originally filed in 2009 by two other prisoners who said they were denied the right to pray as a group more than once a week. Lindh later joined the plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. 

Lindh, 31, says that his faith requires group prayer and that it is a sin not to do so if he is able, according to court documents.

He  is among about two dozen  Muslim prisoners housed in the prison's Communications Management Unit because the government has determined that their communication inside and outside the prison must be closely monitored for security reasons. 

Despite heavy surveillance, prisoners are allowed out of their cells for “virtually the entire day” and can roam and congregate for various activities, including checking e-mail, doing laundry and playing basketball and board games, according to court documents. But they are not allowed to pray together more than once a week except during Ramadan.  

The lawsuit contends the rules place  an unnecessary burden on Lindh’s religious practice.

The U.S. attorney’s office argues that Lindh delivered a “radical, all-Arabic” sermon earlier this year and that he is using his religious activities to try to radicalize prisoners and instigate violence. Limiting group meetings at the prison is necessary to prevent attacks on inmates and staff, escape planning, drug use and other security problems, they said.

Lindh, who grew up in Northern California, was captured in Afghanistan in 2001. He pleaded guilty to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony. He will be eligible for release from federal prison in 2019.

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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