The Making Of John Walker Lindh

How did a quiet, bright young boy from suburban America end up alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan? This is a story of love, loathing and an often reckless quest for spiritual fulfillment

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Correction Appended: March 24, 2003

Soon after, Lindh got a visa for Yemen. His mother was distraught but again kept it to herself. "I was promising myself that I wasn't going to lose it this time like the last time he left," she said. But his sister Naomi was devastated. As Frank noted in his diary on Feb. 1, 2000, "Poor Naomi was crying endlessly" as the family saw Lindh off. "God bless my darling, tall, sweet, handsome John as he leaves on this wonderful journey to the ancient city of Sana'a!"

Lindh would remain in Yemen for nine months. He behaved as he did during his first trip. He was distinguishable from most Yemenite men only by his height. He insisted on speaking in Arabic, even though his mastery was still weak. He took language instruction at a different school but still pursued religious studies at AlIman University, which, despite its designation and funding from gulf states and Saudi Arabia, is an undistinguished building on a hill surrounded by dirt paths. The school boasts 4,000 male students and 1,000 female students from 55 countries. "Even Americans?" a TIME reporter asked Aisha Abdel Maguid al-Zindani, the daughter of the school's founder. "Yes, of course," she replied. Did she remember the American mujahid? "I don't know anything about him. But anyway, we are not the terrorists; the Americans are."

Though Lindh's lawyers deny that he traveled there, reports persist in Yemen that he frequented the town of Damaj, near the Saudi border, where religious controversies brew. "He got even more confused there," says the Yemen Times' Mohamed bin Salam, a well-connected local journalist. "He came for something, but he did not know what." One theory circulating in Yemen is that Lindh was enlisted by anticommunist Islamic recruiters who had been associated with Sheik al-Zindani and were looking to deploy fighters in Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan. With a promise of jihad and a $500 monthly salary, the offer was attractive to many poorer Arabs. "He seems to have been a victim of these people," says bin Salam, who assumes Lindh "was told that what he was looking for could only be found in Afghanistan." In any case, just weeks into his second stay in Yemen, he wrote to Hayat, the businessman-missionary, in Bannu asking him about lessons in Pakistani madrasahs. In October Hayat says he received a call from Lindh saying he was arriving in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, in a week. Would Hayat mind making the five-hour drive to pick him up?

Hayat met Lindh and took him on a tour of various madrasahs, searching for the perfect one from Karachi in the south to Peshawar in the northwest. The young American rejected them all and preferred remaining at Hayat's side. He helped Hayat at his store, a prosperous business dealing in powdered milk.

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