From student to a fighter dubbed Tartan Taleban

HE HAS the thickest of Dundee accents and an infectious chuckle which he employs at the end of almost every clipped sentence. They are somewhat at odds with his fine white Muslim clothes ... and his reputation.

James McLintock, 40, has travelled a long way from his unremarkable Catholic upbringing in 1960s Scotland to his being dubbed the Tartan Taleban after he was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001. He was later released.

But the Muslim convert is a committed Jihadist who after attending an Arab training camp fought the "Godless Communists" in Afghanistan and the Serbs in Bosnia.

So how does the son of a maths teacher and a chemistry lecturer, and a "model" zoology and botany student at Dundee and Edinburgh Universities become a Muslim fighter?

James McLintock’s life path split from those around him while he was in Edinburgh during the early 1980s when he was 20 or 21. Gripped by religion, he began to ignore his studies in favour of reading the Bible.

"My friend one day said, go and read the Bible. That was the turning point; people like turning points.

"I sort of dropped out, I wasn’t too bothered about my studies."

He read the Bible every day until coming across a copy of the Koran on a friend’s bookshelf.

"I didn’t even know there was such a thing as the Koran. They were speaking about Abraham and the day of judgment."

Within a year of reading the Koran, Mr McLintock had converted to Islam. He dived into study of the faith, spending the next year 18 months becoming "religiously educated". But he soon realised he was not the studying type, and liked more "practical things". Practical things like Jihad in Afghanistan - something he appears to have fallen into almost on a whim.

The next stage of his life change began when he began to talking to young Saudi men during a flight to Pakistan to visit an old university friend.

"They said they were going to make Jihad in Afghanistan. It was early 1988 when everything was open and America was the biggest Jihad backer in the world.

"They were on my case. They were saying: ‘How can you go to Pakistan and you don’t go to Jihad?’ When I arrived in Islamabad they had a bus waiting for them and I thought it would be a bit of adventure, so let’s go and see what happens."

He went to a 40-day boot camp run by Arabs - although, he stresses, not by Osama bin Laden. "It was firing guns, running up hills. It was the normal army thing." And then he went into battle.

"I had no doubts at all that it was the right thing. What they were saying was correct wasn’t it? A few godless Communists, help your Muslim brothers. They wanted an Islamic state and the Arabs helped them."

He says he was not scared but did not want to go into detail about the fighting or what horrors he had seen, if any. Asked later if he had killed anyone, he said: "I’m not going to tell you that, it’s not relevant."

He was called to Jihad again, this time in Bosnia in 1994, but Mr McLintock first came to public attention in December 2001 when he was arrested on Christmas Eve at a checkpoint in Afghanistan, close to the Pakistan border.

Just 60 or so miles away lay the infamous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, where bin Laden’s fighters fought their last stand against US and Afghan forces. The police were on the lookout for foreign fighters and Mr McLintock appeared to fit the bill perfectly. He was thrown in prison until British intelligence agents could visit him.

At first he appeared to personify the West’s worst nightmare: an educated young man who found Islam and turned his back on his own culture to fight for one of the most oppressive regimes on earth. But it emerged that he had been working for a charity, and he was released. The moniker of Tartan Taleban stuck, however.

"It rhymes doesn’t it? Typical British press. I’m not that bothered. Under the circumstances, a white middle-class gentleman accused of being an Islamic terrorist it must have been a shock to the system.

"I got interrogated by MI5 because I’m a national. They wanted to know the same things you want to know, only in more detail. From when I was born until the day that they met me. They had more time on their hands as well."

On his last visit to Scotland, almost exactly a year ago, Mr McLintock - or Yaqub McLintock as he is now called - was arrested in an early morning raid in Manchester and accused again of being an international terrorist before being released. On this visit too, he was questioned at immigration.

Mr McLintock appears more bemused than angry at his treatment by the authorities. His nickname even makes him smile. In 1995 he married a Pakistani woman called Shaffia and started a family.

It seems that perhaps he has finally settled down. Midway through the interview, he receives a phone call from his wife to remind him about the presents he is supposed to be taking back for the children.

He has thrown his passion into a new venture: a news agency that will give the "true" picture of what is happening in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His business card boasts that he is chief editor of Media Watch ("Nothing But The Best News").

His name is spelt incorrectly: Yakoob Macclintock. He explains that his brief brush with MI5 could be a burden in his new profession: "If I put it on the internet, it would come up straight away," he says.

"In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the information being sent out is very one-sided. As western journalists do not know what the people are like, what their culture is like, they are trying to force a western template on what has happened.

"I’m trying to show what’s really happening," he says. "Rather than what people want to be happening, what the different opinions are there and trying to be more balanced."

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