US al-Qa'ida fighter in court

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The Independent US

John Walker Lindh, the young Muslim convert accused of joining al–Qa'ida soldiers in Afghanistan, returned to the United States under FBI custody to face criminal charges that he conspired to kill fellow Americans.

Lindh flew back yesterday aboard a military cargo plane amid extraordinary secrecy and security, two years after he left the United States for Yemen to study Arabic and Islam. He was captured in Afghanistan after a November uprising by Taliban prisoners in which a CIA officer was killed.

The cargo plane landed at Dulles International Airport, just outside Washington.

Attorney James Brosnahan said Lindh has a four–member defence team including himself.

Lindh, aged 20, will make his first courtroom appearance this afterrnoon in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, to answer to charges of conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban. If convicted, Lindh could spend the rest of his life in prison.

"We're prepared for every possible contingency," said John Hackman, deputy chief US marshal for the federal district. A four–car motorcade greeted Lindh's helicopter and took him to an Alexandria detention centre.

Lindh was taken off the USS Bataan warship in the Arabian Sea by helicopter and transferred to another military plane at the airport at the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, officials said.

Lindh's flight was probably similar to those of the detainees taken to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In those flights, the detainees were bound at the wrist with handcuffs and tape and wore blacked–out goggles.

At today's hearing, the US magistrate will announce the charges against Lindh and ensure that he has a lawyer. The next step would be a detention hearing where bail conditions would be set. The case would then go to a federal grand jury.

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