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Taliban fighter from prison uprising says he's American

The fighter, who identified himself as John Walker, was being treated Sunday for grenade and bullet wounds.
The fighter, who identified himself as John Walker, was being treated Sunday for grenade and bullet wounds.  

NEAR MAZAR-E SHARIF, Afghanistan (CNN) -- One of the non-Afghan Taliban fighters who survived last week's prison uprising near Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan is an American, U.S. officials said Sunday on condition of anonymity.

The fighter, who identified himself as John Walker, was receiving treatment Sunday for grenade and bullet wounds suffered in the bloody revolt last week by some Taliban prisoners captured after the surrender of Konduz to the Northern Alliance.

During the uprising, which began November 25, hundreds of the Taliban prisoners and a CIA operative were killed.

Authorities ended the threat by flooding the garrison's cellar Friday night. More than 80 Taliban fighters emerged Saturday morning and surrendered to members of the Northern Alliance, according to the Red Cross. The Red Cross had suspended collecting bodies from the compound Thursday when armed Taliban began shooting at rescue workers, killing one and wounding two others.

The 20-year-old fighter said he had been hiding in the fortress' basement for seven days and had not eaten.

He described himself as a convert to Islam and a "jihadi" -- fighter of holy wars. He added that he had lived in northwest Pakistan and joined the Taliban six months ago.

Correspondent Robert Young Pelton has the story of John Walker and how he says he came to be a Taliban fighter (December 2)

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In describing how the Taliban prison revolt began, he said, "Somehow they started fighting, starting with a grenade, then one of them grabbed a Kalashnikov from one of the [Alliance Gen. Abdul Rashid] Dostum army forces, and so the fighting began. Eventually they took some heavy weapons, and they took control of a weapons storage house."

Walker said he was born in Columbia Women's Hospital in Washington and grew up near San Francisco. Walker said his parents are divorced and that he left home at 18, studying Arabic in Yemen. He said his father lives in Northern California.

CNN has been unable to verify this information independently.

He traveled to northwest Pakistan, where he studied Islam and came into contact with Taliban supporters, Walker said.

He then went to the Afghan capital, Kabul, where, because he did not speak the local languages, the Taliban urged him to join the forces supported and funded by Osama bin Laden, he said.

Walker said he followed their advice, going to a training camp in Afghanistan where bin Laden appeared several times. He said he learned to fire a Kalashnikov.

Walker said he then was sent to the Kashmir region, where he fought with Pakistanis against Indians, and returned to Afghanistan for another month of training.

He said he has been in Afghanistan for six months, speaking only Arabic.

When the U.S. bombardment began, he said he fled 100 miles on foot to Konduz, where he was one of more than 3,000 Taliban soldiers taken prisoner in the garrison.

He said he intended to surrender but was drawn into battle when one of his comrades threw a grenade. After taking a bullet in his upper-right thigh, he fled to the basement bunker, where he and dozens of other Taliban remained for seven days. During that time, gasoline was poured into the basement and ignited, and grenades were exploded.

He and the remaining survivors did not emerge until Northern Alliance forces diverted an irrigation stream into the bunker, flushing out the survivors.

Walker, a thin man of about 5 feet, 10 inches, described the basement as a dungeon and said it was full of dead bodies.

Walker was among three truckloads of prisoners -- most of them wounded or dead -- who had emerged or been taken from the basement. U.S. Special Forces soldiers took Walker to a warm place and assisted in getting him medical treatment.

The Red Cross was caring for Walker on Sunday night in Mazar-e Sharif. He was sequestered because he is considered a prisoner of war.

If he is determined to be a U.S. citizen, he would be taken back to the United States, officials said. Whether he would be tried, and by whom, remains unclear.

-- CNN Correspondent Robert Pelton contributed to this report.


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