NEW YORK – As he staggered blinking and shivering into the sunlight with 85 other foreign Taliban in Qalai Jangi, Abdul Hamid's scrawny frame did nothing to distinguish him from his fellow survivors.
Bearded and in rags, he looked no different from the Chechens and Uzbeks who had been holed up for almost a week in the basement of the 19th-century fortress at Mazar-e-Sharif, fighting for their lives. But the 20-year-old former Taliban foot soldier was no ordinary foreign fighter — he was an American.
It emerged last night that Abdul Hamid was born John Walker in Columbia Women’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.. He told officials that his parents were divorced and that he grew up near San Francisco. His father lives in northern California.
[In an interview posted on Newsweek's Web site Sunday night, the man's parents identified him as John Philip Walker Lindh, 20, of Fairfax, Calif.. His mother called him a "sweet, shy kid" and added that "he must have been brainwashed."]
[According to the Pentagon, the man has received medical attention from U.S. forces. However, they could not provide further details, give his name or confirm his identity or citizenship.]
["U.S. military forces in Afghanistan have in their control a man who calls himself a U.S. citizen," Army Maj. James Cassella, a Pentagon spokesman, told the Associated Press in Washington. "He was among the Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners held by the Northern Alliance in Mazar-e-Sharif."]
Hamid, who converted to Islam when he was 16, speaks in an educated, mid-Atlantic accent. He told Colin Soloway, a Newsweek reporter, how he had come to be involved in a massacre thousands of miles from home.
He traveled to Yemen to study Arabic and Islam, then made his way to Kabul, via Pakistan, to join the Taliban six months ago. He said that he had seen Usama bin Laden a number of times at an Al Qaeda training camp. He had been taught how to fire a Kalashnikov before being sent to Kashmir, where he had fought alongside Pakistanis against Indian troops.
He said that 10 days ago, the Taliban forces of which he was a member had surrendered to General Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Northern Alliance after the siege of Kunduz, about 100 miles east of Mazar-e-Sharif.
Six hundred defeated soldiers, including many Pakistanis, Arabs and Chechens, had been loaded into trucks and taken to the fort of Qalai Jangi, Gen. Dostum's headquarters.
"Almost as soon as we got there, two of them threw grenades they had hidden in their clothes, and killed a couple of people," Hamid said.
"After that they put us in the basement and left us overnight. Early in the morning, they began taking us out, slowly, one by one, into the compound. Our hands were tied and they were beating and kicking some of us. Mujahideen were scared, crying.
"They thought we were going to be killed. I saw two Americans there. They were taking pictures with a digital camera and a video camera. They were there to interrogate us.
"As soon as the last of us was taken out of the basement, someone either pulled a knife, or threw a grenade at the guards, and got their guns and started shooting," he said. "I don’t really know how it happened. As soon as I heard the shooting and the screaming, I jumped up and ran about one or two meters, and was shot in the leg."
About 40 Northern Alliance troops were killed before they retreated outside the walls of the fort. U.S. warplanes then attacked the fort.
After three days of fierce fighting, the Northern Alliance believed that it had secured the fort. Hamid said that to flush out prisoners from the basement the force poured in gasoline and set it on fire.
However, he and about 100 other Taliban troops survived. Two days later, when Health Ministry workers went into the basement to retrieve bodies, the Taliban soldiers had fired at them. The Alliance had responded by firing artillery rockets into the cellar.
"It was horrible," Hamid said. "The rockets were exploding in the hallway of the basement and we were all hiding in the cells. There were parts of bodies all over."
On Friday, Alliance troops flooded the basement. Hamid said. "We spent the night in the freezing cold water. Those who could stand up survived, but there were a lot of wounded who couldn’t stand, and they drowned."
The survivors surrendered on Saturday morning Hamid was taken to Mazar-e-Sharif, where he was tended by the International Red Cross. Last night a spokesman for U.S. Central Command said that it had taken custody of "a man who calls himself a U.S. citizen". He was being given medical assistance by U.S. forces.