Bin Laden thanked American Taliban for joining his fighters

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John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban fighter was charged with aiding and abetting terrorists. He was said to have been personally thanked by Osama bin Laden for "joining the jihad".

Mr Walker Lindh, 20, from California, was charged with three offences – conspiracy to kill Americans overseas, providing support and resources to designated foreign terrorist organisations including al-Qa'ida and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban. None of those charges carries the death penalty, the maximum punishment being life imprisonment. But the US Attorney General, John Ashcroft, said further charges might be brought, including treason – which does carry the death penalty – if more evidence was forthcoming.

Mr Walker Lindh was discovered last November among Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters who were being held at a Northern Alliance prison at Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. He was briefly interrogated by the CIA operative, Mike Spann, before a prison uprising in which Mr Spann was killed.

Mr Ashcroft said Mr Walker Lindh, currently being held on a US warship in the Arabian Sea, had been charged on the basis on statements he had given to investigators. He said he would now be handed over to the FBI to face criminal charges at a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mr Ashcroft said: "Terrorists did not compel John Walker Lindh to join them – he chose to join the terrorists. Walker knowingly and purposely allied himself with certain terrorist organisations. He chose to embrace fanatics and his allegiance to those fanatics and terrorists never faltered, not even with the knowledge that they had murdered thousands of his countrymen."

He added: "Youth is not absolution for treachery or an excuse to take up arms against your country. We cannot overlook attacks on Americans when they come from US citizens."

Mr Ashcroft said Mr Walker Lindh travelled to Afghanistan last year where he trained with a Kashmiri extremist group. From there he met Taliban recruiters who put him in touch with an al-Qa'ida training camp after deciding he did not have the required language skills to join the Taliban.

Mr Walker Lindh told American investigators that at the training camp he learnt that Mr bin Laden had sent fighters to the US on several "suicide missions".

Mr Ashcroft said Mr bin Laden visited the training camp a number of times and on one occasion he met Mr Walker Lindh and "thanked him for taking part in the jihad".

There has been much speculation about Mr Walker Lindh's fate since he was taken prisoner last year, with some people suggesting he would be placed before a military tribunal.

President George Bush has said such tribunals would only be used to deal with foreign nationals and not American citizens.