WASHINGTON (AP) John Walker Lindh, the 20-year-old Californian who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan, was charged yesterday with conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens. He will be tried in a civilian court and could face life in prison.

Paul Wong
Attorney General John Ashcroft speaks to reporters yesterday on the indictment of John Walker Lindh, the American Taliban.<br><br>AP PHOTO

After weeks of deliberations, the Bush administration opted against a military trial or charges that would carry the death penalty.

Lindh, who converted to Islam at 16 and is alleged to have trained at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. He will be transferred from a U.S. military ship for trial in the United States.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said Lindh admitted in interviews with the FBI that he met Osama bin Laden and knew bin Laden had ordered the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

“He chose to embrace fanatics, and his allegiance to those terrorists never faltered,” said Ashcroft. “Terrorists did not compel John Walker Lindh to join them. John Walker Lindh chose terrorists.”

Lindh learned in early June that bin Laden had sent people to the United States to carry out suicide operations, according to an FBI affidavit. The document described an odyssey that began with Walker”s conversion to Islam in 1997, later training in Pakistan and Afghanistan and a decision last year to join the Taliban.

Friends have described Lindh as an intelligent young man who wore full-length robes to high school and went by the name “Suleyman” after his conversion to Islam. After his capture in December, his parents, Marilyn Walker and Frank Lindh, had asked the public to withhold judgment about their son.

James Brosnahan, a lawyer for the separated couple, could not be reached yesterday. A spokeswoman at his law office in San Francisco said he was “issuing no statements at this time.”

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