Pakistani teachers remember Lindh

Saturday, January 26, 2002

HASSANI KALAN SURANI, Pakistan -- During his six months of study at an Islamic school here, John Walker Lindh expressed admiration for the Taliban and even talked of taking four wives as permitted under Islam, according to those who knew him.

Lindh, known here by his Muslim name, Sulayman al-Faris, is remembered in this Pakistani village 165 miles southwest of Islamabad as a kind and earnest young man devoted to his religious studies.

But, according to the recollections of some here, Lindh showed the telltale signs of militancy and even shared some of the radical Taliban interpretations of his new faith.

"He often told me that the Taliban's Islam was complete and they don't fear anyone except God," said Mufti Mohammed Iltimas, the headmaster of the Madrassa-e-Arabia, or Arabic School, where Lindh studied until May 15.

Iltimas said the 20-year-old Californian also expressed a desire to take four wives -- a practice allowed by Islam but discouraged by many Muslim clerics.

"He was speaking seriously," Iltimas said. "He is a man and every man has desires."

Lindh made his first appearance Thursday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., on charges including conspiring to kill his fellow Americans in Afghanistan. He faces life imprisonment if convicted.

He was captured in November near the Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif fighting with the Taliban and survived a bloody prison uprising a few days later in which CIA operative Johnny "Mike" Spann was killed.

Taliban fascination

During his months studying Islam in Pakistan, Lindh became fascinated with the Taliban, whose strict brand of Islam banned women from most jobs and education and outlawed movies and television.

Pharmacist Kareem Khan used to provide Lindh with medicine for stomach aches and allergies. "I pointed to a cinema and told Sulayman 'look, it's a movie house,'" Khan said. "His reply was: 'No, this is a house of Satan.'"

Sitting in a carpeted room where Lindh studied and sometimes slept during his time at the school, Iltimas recalled that Lindh enjoyed listening to Taliban radio broadcasts whenever someone was available to translate for him.

"He also started to learn Pashtun and even dress like Pashtuns," Iltimas said, referring to the language spoken by most of the Taliban.

Still, the faculty and students were stunned to learn of Lindh's capture and that he had joined the Taliban. When he left, Iltimas said, he told his friends he was heading into the northern mountains to spend the summer. Lindh left behind a stack of letters, all from his mother, and other personal effects, including a suitcase full of clothes and a shelf of Islamic books.

"Many were in tears and I, and all the faithful, prayed for his deliverance after the evening prayers at the mosque," Iltimas said.

Letters to mother

In the months before Lindh's capture, Iltimas corresponded with the American's mother, Marilyn Walker, who sent anguish-filled letters to the school in search of her son. Then, Iltimas tried to reassure her that Lindh was well but made no mention of his whereabouts.

A visit to the religious school shows the influences under which Lindh lived during his months of study here. On most days, the sounds of the estimated 40 young pupils reciting verses from the Quran, Islam's holy book, echo through the small, dusty school yard.

The school is modest. The mosque's walls are whitewashed and its floor is covered with a cheap blue carpet. In the courtyard, a row of water taps standing knee-high line one corner, where worshippers can take the ritual wash required of Muslims before they perform their five daily prayers.

The curriculum taught at the school is exclusively Islamic, and the course on Arabic literature is geared toward improving the students' Arabic, the language of the Quran, rather than literary appreciation.

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