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Correction Appended: March 24, 2003
He did not fit in. Sana'a is an inexpensive city, and foreign students tend to live it up there, eating well in the modest restaurants, sitting at the dinky cafes sipping tea and dragging on the water pipe, shopping from the abundant display of souvenirs everywhere and even chewing khat, a leaf with ephedrine-like qualities that many Yemenites are addicted to. All of the worldliness appalled the 17-year-old convert, and he complained about coed classes to the YLC director Sabri Saleem. "He was a pain in the butt," says Saleem. Lindh once posted a note on the door of fellow expatriate students who lived across from his room. Obtained by Time and the Yemen Observer, it reads, "Dear Inhabitants of This Room, Please abstain from getting naked in front of the window. Our neighbors from the apartment building across the street have complained to Sabri, who has ignored them. However, this is not a matter to be taken lightly. Some of our neighbors have threatened to shoot Sabri and/or the inhabitants of this room and the room next to it. Please pass this message on to the inhabitants of room #2, and thank you for your decency."
Lindh's fellow students mockingly nicknamed him Yusuf Islam, after the folk singer Cat Stevens, a celebrated convert to Islam who took that name. For his part, Suleyman Lindh shunned his fellow expatriates and, after five weeks at the YLC--even though his parents had already paid half the $6,000 annual tuition--dropped out of the secular center. He frequented mosques and other holy places. Says a teacher: "He was always wandering around the mosques of old Sana'a, from the Grand Mosque to the Talha Mosque to the Motawakil and Ali Ibn Abi Taleb." Yet even the religion bewildered him. He had been indoctrinated as a Sunni of theSalafi sect, but most of the mosques in the area were Shi'ite mosques of the Zaidisect--which can becompared to an evangelical Protestant finding himself at worship in a Catholic church. Eventually, Lindh learned to travel to the outskirts of the crowded Shamayla zone, to find a Salafi mosque, the Ahl El Kheir.
The puritanical Salafis, who forbid the chewing of khat, built the Ahl El Kheir Mosque from plain beige bricks, with black basalt adorning windows paneled in white iron. The interior of the mosque is unadorned: whitewashed walls, green and blue carpets. Mosque decoration is considered heresy. This was the Islam Lindh sought. It was reinforced by what he learned at Al-Iman University, where he studied after leaving the YLC. There he would have heard the teachings of Al-Iman's founder, Sheikh al-Zindani, a fiery political leader whose ideas parallel bin Laden's. Lindh's parents never inquired about his new school's politics.