Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Walker, American Jihad Fighter

SAN ANSELMO, California -- John Walker Lindh's parents knew he was a different sort of boy.

When others his age were filling their heads with football and fast cars, John was holed up in his room studying thick treatises on world religions. Buddhism, Native American religions, Hinduism.

John, raised a Catholic but encouraged by his parents to choose his own spiritual path, studied them all. That is, until Islam captured his heart and soul and propelled him on a journey that ended over the weekend when he was captured as a fighter for the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.

Calling himself Abdul Hamid, Walker, who used to go by his mother's last name, was identified Monday as one of the Taliban soldiers who had taken refuge in the tunnels of a Northern Alliance prison in Mazar-i-Sharif. After days of fighting in which hundreds of soldiers were killed, he and the Taliban fighters he was with were finally flushed out when the tunnels were flooded.

Until his parents saw the wretched-looking captured Taliban soldier they recognized as their 20-year-old son on CNN on Sunday night, they had no idea where he was, or even if he was alive.

Their son became a Muslim at age 16, known in this old, moneyed suburb as the quiet, religious youth who did not play with others. He stood out at the Mill Valley Islamic Center, where most of the Muslims were Indian. He was so serious about Islam that he changed his name to Suleyman al-Lindh and convinced his corporate-lawyer father, Frank Lindh, and commercial-photographer mother, Marilyn Walker, to send him to an Islamic school in Yemen.

Two years later, on a visit home in February 1999, he told his family he was going to return to the United States to go to medical school, and then move permanently to Pakistan, where he would continue his spiritual path while ministering to the poor.

His parents lost contact with him in May, when he e-mailed them from northwest Pakistan, where he was studying at an Islamic religious school, to say he was moving somewhere cooler for the summer.

Lindh, a lawyer for Pacific Gas and Electric, based in San Francisco, said it did not occur to him that his son was in Afghanistan.

"We thought he was in Pakistan the whole time,'' Lindh said in an interview outside his home on Monday afternoon.

"I would gladly have him for my own son,'' said Bill Jones, a friend whom Lindh lived with in San Rafael for two years after his separation from his wife.

Jones met the young Islamic student two years ago and was impressed at how mature, smart and directed he was for an 18-year-old.

"He wore the long robes and pillbox hat and had a beard,'' Jones said. "His parents weren't the kind who said you had to change into Levi's while you're here. They were proud of him, as I would be if I were them.''

Those who knew Walker from his studies at the Islamic Center of Mill Valley said that he left Marin County, known for its progressive politics and millionaires, because he found it too difficult to be a Muslim there.

"He found it difficult to practice Islam here,'' said Abdullah Nana, 23, who used to drive Walker to and from the mosque. "He wanted to leave this country and go to a Muslim country.''

Walker told CNN over the weekend that he had joined the Taliban as a volunteer because his "heart became attached to them'' after he studied their movement. He also claimed to have gone to a training camp in Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden appeared several times.