Global Terrorism Intelligence Briefing
This edition of the Global Terrorism Intelligence Briefing reviews the potential implications of U.S. citizen and former Taliban militant John Walker Lindh’s release from prison. We also assess the continued use of Pro-ISIS violent graphics that threaten the U.S. general population.
Potential Release of John Walker Lindh
According to multiple media sources, U.S. citizen and former Taliban militant John Walker Lindh will likely be released from U.S. federal prison in May 2019. Lindh, who obtained Irish citizenship following his incarceration, reportedly intends to relocate to Ireland once released; though it is unclear if the U.S. Government will allow him to do so. In addition, despite Lindh’s Irish citizenship, the Irish government has stated they could potentially refuse to grant him a passport.
As was widely reported at the time, U.S. forces detained Lindh in 2001 following the initial U.S. invasion following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Before being detained, Lindh, who grew up in Maryland and California, spent multiple years in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. While there, he spent time at an al Qaida and Taliban training camp near Qandahar, Afghanistan.
Following his detention, and per an FBI record of his interrogation, Lindh claimed to have met Osama bin Laden on one occasion before the 9/11 attacks. At the meeting, the then al Qaida leader thanked Lindh and other foreign fighters for volunteering to “take part in jihad.”
Eventually Lindh plead guilty to charges, including supporting the Taliban, and a federal court sentenced him to 20 years in prison. He continues to serve his sentence at the U.S. federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Implications Associated With Lindh’s Release
While there is much debate about Lindh’s potential release from prison, as well as questions about the length of his sentence (one former U.S. National Security official called it an “overreaction” in the aftermath of 9/11), our main focus is if Lindh will remain a risk once he reintegrates into society. While this question cannot yet be answered with certainty, we do know that a 2017 National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) report stated that Lindh has “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.”
The same NCTC report indicated that Lindh informed a news producer in 2016 that he “would continue to spread violent extremist Islam upon his release [from prison].”
If the above statements remain accurate, and the U.S. or Irish governments do not take steps to limit his ability to communicate after his release (e.g. restricting his Internet usage as a term of his parole), it is possible Lindh could — directly or indirectly — advocate attacks by foreign terror organizations such as al Qaida or the Islamic State (ISIS).
We assess that Lindh would have a potentially significant effect on homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) residing in the U.S. or other English speaking countries. First, because of his ability to speak their native tongue (e.g. English). Second, because he likely understands the types of issues and views that could motivate a natural born citizen to radicalize and carry out an attack.
Finally, Lindh would likely be viewed by many HVEs as an authentic figure in the realm of jihad, since supported the Taliban and al Qaida before 9/11 and had an actual encounter with bin Laden. Further, some might view Lindh as something akin to a martyr, incarcerated by the U.S. Government due to his political views and associated actions.
While we assess that the above scenarios and risks are plausible, we simply don’t know if or how Lindh will interact with the global Islamist extremist community following his release. That being said, it would be prudent for the U.S. and other western governments to closely monitor Lindh for any indications that he plans to use his notoriety and influence to motivate others to conduct attacks.
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