BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Known as the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh is now a free man. The American citizen who was with the Taliban on September 11th, 2001, was released from federal prison Thursday morning.
Lindh is held partially responsible for causing the first American casualty in the War on Terror in Afghanistan. That person is Mike Spann - the father of WLOX News Anchor Alison Spann.
Spann was one of the first Americans to go into Afghanistan with a small CIA team. Just two months after the 9/11 attacks, Spann was questioning terrorist suspects when a prison uprising broke out in the facility. As a result, Spann was killed, becoming the first American casualty in the War on Terror.
He left behind three young children, including at the time nine-year-old Alison Spann.
“My brother was six-months-old when my dad died. He’ll never know my father. My sister was four and has little memories. I’ll only know my father from the eyes of a nine-year-old. They took all of that away from us that day,” Alison said.
Moments before the prison uprising started, Mike Spann was questioning American citizen turned Taliban member John Walker Lindh.
“We don’t know exactly who killed him that day, but we do know that John Walker Lindh was there. He was housed in the pink house that night with all the other prisoners. There’s no way he didn’t know what was going to happen.”
For his role in the prison uprising and Spann’s death, Lindh was sentenced to 20-years in federal prison.
“He got off easy, he got off scot-free. He only was sentenced to 20-years, where my family was sentenced to a life sentence.”
Earlier this year, Alison learned Lindh was set to be released three years early for good behavior. The early release would come despite a 2017 report saying Lindh continued to advocate for global jihad while in prison.
“As we started digging more we started seeing reports that he was still radicalized, that he hadn’t denounced radical Islam. He was still promoting global jihad while in jail and writing letters to the media that Isis was doing a spectacular job. That just started a whole another level of concern.”
With concern of the release growing, Alison and her family started taking action, reaching out to lawmakers
“For him to get out early, especially for good behavior, really does feel like a slap in the face and it does feel personal.”
With those personal feelings serving as motivation, Alison sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking for his support in stopping the early release of Lindh.
On Thursday, the President said he spoke with attorneys about the release.
“I heard about this two weeks ago. I got a beautiful letter from the daughter of the man they say was the first killed in Afghanistan, from the CIA. I went and checked and he said from a legal standpoint there’s nothing we’re allowed to do, because if there was I would have done it instantly. But we’ll be watching him and watching closely,” President Trump said.
Now going forward, the Spann family is working with members of Congress to create guidelines for the future release of convicted terrorists.
“He’s one of many who are set to be released within the next five years. As far as I know, the U.S. hasn’t yet set forth a plan going forward for how we’re going to reintegrate these individuals into society,” Alison said.
John Walker Lindh walked out of federal prison in Indiana Thursday morning, and now faces strict restrictions including monitoring of his online activity and restrictions on travel abroad. But even with the restrictions, Alison worries that he’s not behind bars.
“I do have fear of him in terms of what he’s going to do with his terrorist ideologies. Is he going to use those ideologies to carry out more attacks? To plan more attacks? To communicate with more people and aid them in what they’re doing?”
While the release of Lindh wasn’t stopped, the efforts of the Spann family resulted in Alison learning that the love she has for her dad is a sentiment shared by many.
“I never will know my dad as an adult. But it’s through people that he worked with and through people he knew that I’ve come to learn who he was as a person, and for me that means everything.”
Thursday, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Bradley Byrne from Alabama introduced the “No Leniency for Terrorists Act.” The legislation would bar early release of future federal inmates convicted of terrorism-related charges.
“A convicted terrorist walking free before his sentence is completed should never happen again,” Byrne said. “The Spann family asked me to address this injustice, and I want to make sure no other family has to go through what they have been through. The No Leniency for Terrorists Act will prevent terrorists from taking advantage of our laws to avoid paying their debt to society. We must ensure that terrorists will remain behind bars where they belong.”