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Father hopes U.S. has mercy on Taliban fighter son

Lindh said would like to hug his son and kick his butt for not getting permission to go to Afghanistan.
Lindh said would like to hug his son and kick his butt for not getting permission to go to Afghanistan.  

(CNN) -- In his first television interview since his son made headlines, the father of an American who fought with the Taliban hopes that the United States will show mercy to his son.

The wounded 20-year-old John Walker was in the custody of U.S. Special Forces somewhere in Afghanistan, U.S. military officials at Central Command in Tampa, Florida, said Monday.

Frank Lindh described how his son's devotion to Islam drew him to the Middle East. But during his appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live," Lindh said he had no idea the young man was in Afghanistan.

Also appearing on the show was "CBS News" anchor Dan Rather, who posed his own question to Lindh.

LARRY KING: What is the story, Frank? What attracted your son to go over?

FRANK LINDH: Larry, my son was a convert to Islam when he was 16, just in high school age here in California. He attended a mosque in San Francisco, began to really study in earnest while he was there, and then he went overseas to study Arabic in Yemen, which is a good place to study Arabic because the old form of Arabic is spoken there.

CNN's Rusty Dornin says 20-year-old John Walker left northern California and wound up in a training camp run by Osama bin Laden (December 3)

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Correspondent Robert Young Pelton reports on John Walker and how he says he became a Taliban fighter (December 2)

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He came back home after about a year in Yemen, then he went back to Yemen to continue his language and religious studies there in Yemen. Then in November of 2000, he went to Pakistan. He was there in a mosque in Pakistan in a city called Bannu from November until May, the first of May this year.

At that point, he had told us he was going to go up to the mountains of Pakistan and spend the summer because of the heat in Bannu during the summer. And with my blessing, he did leave. What we didn't know until Saturday night, was that John apparently went to Afghanistan rather than farther up to the hills of Pakistan.

KING: When, Frank, was the last time had you heard from him?

LINDH: At the first of May, Larry.

KING: So it was not since May?

LINDH: Not since May. We have been waiting and hoping and praying to hear some word from him since the first of May. It was only Saturday night of this week that we, you know, we all viewed those images on CNN.

KING: Did anything in your mind lend you to think that he might be with them? Anything from a prior correspondence before May, any statements he had made to you that might lend you to think that he would join or be part of that group?

LINDH: No, Larry. John, he's a very sweet kid, very devout, very religious. He is certainly devoted to this religious conversion that he had to Islam. But to me, John was always the same kid. He always had the same sense of humor, the same family relations with his sister and his brother. And so I had no indication or reason to be concerned that he would put himself in danger like this by going to Afghanistan.

KING: What were your thoughts after September 11?

LINDH: Well, our thoughts were very troubled, Larry. We were very concerned because there had been this long period already where we had not heard from John, and now of course we have this, the terrible, terrible tragedy here in the United States. And demonstrations in Pakistan, where we thought John was, against the Americans, so we began to be even more concerned about the lack of any communication, thinking that John might be in some danger there in Pakistan.

KING: Now, Frank, what are you going through? You're obviously overjoyed that your son is alive, you haven't heard from him so you know he's alive. Yet you know, he might be charged with something, right?

LINDH: Well, I don't know, Larry. Our first concern is we want to see John. We want to see him. His mom and I both want to see him. We have hired a lawyer. We're very interested in getting information from the government as to where John is now. Let me say, though, we're also very grateful that the Special Forces picked him up. We know John is safe and we are very grateful for that information. But we do...

KING: But you have no idea what's going to happen to him?


LINDH: No, we have had no information or communication of any kind from the government as yet. We are, though, hoping, hoping to hear from the government.

KING: Have you tried to contact him?

LINDH: Well, no, Larry. I have no idea where he is. My information was that he was taken by the Special Forces. The one reporter on the ground in Afghanistan that I spoke to, the "Newsweek" reporter who broke the story, said he was speculating, but he thought John had been removed from Afghanistan to another country.

KING: What, as you look back and think back, he was raised Catholic, was he not, Frank?


KING: What took him to this extreme route? We understand being attracted to another faith and many do go to Islam and other type faiths as they move through life. But why this far, do you think?

LINDH: Larry, I really can't answer that without speculating. Until John disappeared on us, so to speak, on the first of May, I had nothing to see there other than a kid who, a boy really, who had converted to a religion that I respect and that seemed very healthy and good for him.

He was very devoted to it, devoted to the intellectual study and the study of Arabic, the memorization of the Koran, even by Islamic standards I think John is an outstanding student, a really devoted student, who ultimately wanted to attend the University at Medina, in Saudi Arabia. And I supported that, I thought that was a noble thing, and I was proud of John for pursuing that alternative course. Different, certainly, from where I grew up.

KING: Boy, now, when the Cole was bombed, is it true that you expressed displeasure with that and he did not?

LINDH: Yes, Larry. We did have a difference of political views on that issue. John, I was upset and I was concerned about the fact that these young Americans who were killed on the Cole were the same age as John. And we just had a little father/son debate, much like my dad and I used to have over Vietnam war, frankly. We had a father/son disagreement on that issue.

KING: Are there other children, Frank?

LINDH: Yes, we have three children. John is the middle child.

KING: What do the other two do?

LINDH: I have a son here in San Francisco, who is 23 years old. He works in a record store. And our daughter Naomi is a seventh-grader.

KING: And your wife is at home, or does she work, too?

LINDH: She works part-time, and we're actually, at Larry, in the midst of an amicable divorce, so we're separated.

KING: How are the two siblings handling this?

LINDH: Well, I have to say, I'm doing my best to remain composed, but we're all very, very upset with what John went through in this prison. It really defies description. And to think that our son, he's really not much more than a boy, that he went through this horrible experience in the prison and who knows what leading up to that, as parents and as family, we're very troubled and very concerned for his welfare.

And that's why we're -- go ahead.

KING: I'm sorry.

LINDH: I was going to say, that's why we're so anxious to see him as soon as possible. We want to give him a big hug. I also want to maybe give him a little kick in the butt for not telling me what he was up to, and for not getting my permission, because I would not have given him permission to go to Afghanistan.

KING: All right, what do you, what are your expectations the government is going to do?

LINDH: I don't know, Larry. I spoke with an attorney today. I have hired the attorney to represent John. I hope the government recognizes that John does deserve to have representation. But John is a good boy. I don't know of any information, any suggestion of any information indicating that he's done anything wrong. Therefore, I hope that John can be debriefed by the government and then come on home.

KING: There's no indication, thus far, that he was doing anything militarily with the Taliban.

LINDH: Larry, I know only what I have seen on CNN and on, on- line. It does indicate in those reports, this is hard for me to reconcile with the John that I know, but he was carrying an AK-47, according to one story.

So he appears to have been a combatant with the Taliban.

KING: Frank, before you leave us, Dan Rather is in Kabul. Dan, do you have a question for Frank?

RATHER: I do, Larry. I've been listening very carefully. Let me first of all say, that any father can certainly relate to what Frank is feeling. But Frank, you said your son had done nothing wrong. He's been quoted as saying that he supported and supports the attacks of September 11. Whether there's anything legally wrong with that or not, there are going to be many, many Americans, I have to say candidly this one, who would say that for whatever reason he said that, that that was wrong. I would like to get your reaction to that.

LINDH: Dan, I'm very troubled by that statement as well. I would just ask you to consider the fact that he was being pressed by a reporter after being pulled out of the basement of a prison where he went through that horrible ordeal.

All I can say is that I don't think his mind was working, I don't think he was thinking straight at that moment. I don't think anybody could be thinking straight after that kind of an ordeal.

KING: Sad stories of war. You just ask what, Frank?

LINDH: Ask that people have a little mercy, and think about what he went through before he made that statement.

KING: Thank you, Frank.

LINDH: Thank you.

RATHER: Frank, I think you know that Americans are filled with mercy, thanks.

LINDH: Thank you, Dan, very much.


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