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American Taliban wandered Central Asia

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- A 20-year-old Taliban fighter who claimed to be an American citizen apparently was a shy and studious youth who converted to Islam as a teenager and held a soft spot in his heart for the world's downtrodden people.

Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh, a divorced couple living in the San Francisco Bay Area, told Newsweek magazine that their son, John Phillip Walker Lindh, became a Muslim when he was 16 and studied for a time in a Pakistani religious school before winding up among Taliban troops captured in northern Afghanistan.

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"I last talked with him at the end of April," Marilyn Walker told Newsweek. "He said he was going to be moving somewhere cooler for the summer."

Instead of spending his summer in Pakistan's mountains, Walker apparently hiked into Afghanistan and attempted to join up with the Muslim fundamentalist Taliban.

According to Newsweek, Lindh had learned Arabic in Yemen, but didn't know the local Afghan dialects well enough for the Taliban, who referred him instead to forces supporting Osama bin Laden. He went through military training at one of bin Laden's Afghan camps and fought briefly alongside Pakistani Muslims in Kashmir before returning to Afghanistan to join up with Taliban troops at Konduz.

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Lindh was in the custody of U.S. troops Monday after the bloody prisoner revolt at Mazar-i-Sharif. He was being treated for leg wounds.

Pentagon officials Monday said Lindh's legal status was still an open question and could not say what, if any, charges he might face, or whether he was being treated as a prisoner of war.

"The only thing that I can say about this individual is that this is somebody who claims to be an American citizen," Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem said Monday. "That claim is being respected for the moment, until facts can be established. He is in control of U.S. military forces.... In terms of his disposition, that has not yet been defined."

Stufflebeem said Lindh's status was "a precise legal question" that was still being addressed.

Lindh's parents said U.S. officials did not contact them about their son, however they recognized him from images shown on U.S. television.

"If he got involved with the Taliban, he must have been brainwashed," Marilyn Walker said. "He was isolated. He didn't know a soul in Pakistan. When you're young and impressionable, it's easy to be led by charismatic people."

Walker and Lindh swore they would stand by their son and were attempting to line up legal representation for him although it was not immediately known what the United States planned to do with their unique prisoner.

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Walker and Frank Lindh insisted their wayward son was no terrorist, but rather a shy and scholarly youth with a gift for languages and a burning sense of compassion for the world's downtrodden that likely made him vulnerable to the siren call of the Taliban.

"That's where his heart is," Walker said. "I think if he got caught up with Taliban people, it's because they sucked that part of him in."

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