American Taliban Classroom

Religious school where John Walker Lindh studied, Hassani Kalan Surani, Pakistan, 1-24-02 AP

CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen is in Pakistan with this exclusive report, filed at the Islamic school where John Walker Lindh studied.



John Walker Lindh stands accused of trying to kill his own countrymen, and many wonder what drove him into the arms and service of the Taliban.

We found clues here, at the Madrassah or religious school where he studied for almost six months using his Muslim name, Sulayman.

His teacher was Mufti Mohammad Iltimas, who talked about his former student in an exclusive interview with CBS News.

"Was (Walker Lindh) a violent man? He was not that kind," recalls Iltimas. "He was sincere to Islam, he was a peaceful Moslem."

Across Pakistan there are an estimated 40 thousand religious schools for boys similar to the Madrassah attended by Walker Lindh.

Many follow the teachings of Islamic fundamentalism and often are the only school and only curriculum for the poorest of the poor.

Observers say that combination has proved to be a fertile breeding grounds for extremist groups like the Taliban.

Iltimas says he remembers Walker Lindh saying that he was disgusted with the US for dropping atom bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, destroying women, children, animals and things.

The teacher also recalls Walker Lindh, at the time of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, said he thought that was a sign of America's moral decay.

Walker Lindh wasn't the teacher's only contact with America. He also got several letters from Walker Lindh's worried mother. In one letter, she told the teacher: "We miss him so much." The teacher wrote back, describing her absent son as "sweet, honest" and "God-fearing."

One day Walker Lindh abruptly left the school, and a lot of his life behind him: including his Arabic workbooks, a suitcase full of Western clothes, and even a tube of toothpaste.

The Muslim teacher, asked for his opinion on what happened to send Walker Lindh into the fighting ranks of the Taliban, Iltimas says: "He left this place. He didn't contact me after that. I don't know."

In America, if convicted, he could be jailed for life. With his picture now one of the most familiar in the U.S., some are already calling it the portrait of a traitor.

At the school here in Pakistan, they still remember the man many Americans now call "the American Taliban."

As his parents suffer through the ordeal of his upcoming trial - his bail hearing's set for Feb. 6 in Virginia - students here at the Madrassah are praying for Walker Lindh - the Quiet American who came to them in peace but left to make war.



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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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