INTERNATIONAL

Forgive me, says Lindh

Washington OCT. 5. John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban, today asked for the country's forgiveness for his joining the Al-Qaeda outfit headed by Osama bin Laden.

A tearful Lindh, who was sentenced to 20 years in jail by the District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Saturday, told the courtroom, "I understand why so many Americans were angry when I was first discovered in Afghanistan. I realise that many still are, but I hope that with time and understanding their feelings will change''

The District Judge, who said, "forgiveness is separate from punishment'', admonished the young Californian. "You were willing to give your life for the Taliban, but not for your country'', the Judge, T. S. Ellis, remarked.

Lindh is technically eligible for some reduction in time for good behaviour, but a judge would have to review this. The prosecution basically had little problem with Lindh's plea agreement. "The information he provided was viewed by the court as an acceptance of responsibility and I'll leave it at that'', the U.S. Attorney said. Lindh had all along maintained that he had never sworn loyalty to Osama and that he had met him only once at a military training camp in Afghanistan.

Lindh, in the course of his statement, condemned Osama. Lindh was captured in the vicinity of a prison uprising in Afghanistan that killed an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, Johnny "Mike'' Spann. Lindh emphatically said that he had no role in the death of Spann. The Judge told the courtroom that the prosecutors did not have sufficient evidence linking Lindh with the death of Spann.

The tearful apology of Lindh contrasted sharply with the laughter of the "shoe bomber'', Richard Reid, at his trial in Boston. Pleading guilty to trying to blow up an American Airlines plane over the Atlantic with explosives hidden in his shoes, Reid said emphatically that he was indeed a follower of Osama bin Laden. Informed by the Judge that prosecutors will be detailing his links with the Al-Qaeda during the sentencing on January 8, 2003, Reid was defiant and contemptuous. "I don't care. I'm a member of Al-Qaeda, I pledge to Osama bin Laden and I'm an enemy of your country, and I don't care'', he said.

The prosecution has said that it would be seeking 60 years to life in prison for Reid. And on the day of terrorism-related legal proceedings, Federal authorities have indicted six persons, including a woman and all former residents of Portland, Oregon, in a conspiracy to join the Al-Qaeda. Five of the suspects are American citizens; and two are fugitives and remain overseas.

According to the indictment in Oregon, after the attacks of September 11, 2002, the suspects got various firearms and started training with a view to joining the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact, they had purchased tickets to Hong Kong with the intent of travelling to the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan through China and Pakistan. This did not, however, materialise.

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