The television images of the bedraggled and bewildered young American detained in Afghanistan months after 9/11 were beamed across the world. They were seared into the consciousness of the country which quickly came to know him as the “American Taliban”.

On a quiet suburban street in Mill Valley, a prosperous town a few miles north of San Francisco, the Islamic Centre is slowly emptying after holding Friday prayers.

Once the crowds have gone, Abdullah Nana recounts how over a decade ago a white teenager turned up, confused and looking for answers.

“He was at a crossroads at that time. He was unsure of his direction in this world. It seemed that Islam and religion was a way for him to spiritually fulfil himself.”

Mr Nana says he quickly became friends with the 16-year-old, who converted to Islam and soon set himself the daunting task of learning Arabic and memorising the Koran.

That boy was John Lindh, also known as John Walker Lindh, who grew up in a middle-class Catholic family, and is now a prisoner in the “special communications unit” in Terre Haute, Indiana, halfway through a 20-year sentence.

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