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Virginia jail housing infamous prisoners

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — There have been some notable additions to the city jail since Sept. 11.

Outside, an 8-foot-tall, chain-link fence, topped off with razor wire, and visitor checkpoints have been added to increase security for the eight-story, rust-colored brick building.

Inside, terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui entered the inmate population. And now, John Walker Lindh. They have joined confessed FBI double agent Robert Hanssen, who is still being debriefed, to form a rogue's gallery of high-profile suspects confined at the city jail.

Visitor parking, meanwhile, has been moved as far away from the building as possible.

"We've just extended the security perimeter outside," Alexandria Sheriff James H. Dunning said Thursday. "We've broadened it, we've hardened it to some extent."

Lindh, the American Taliban fighter who arrived a day earlier, was driven under extraordinary security Thursday the two blocks to U.S. District Court for a reading of the charges against him.

The 20-year-old Californian faces charges that include conspiring to kill fellow Americans in Afghanistan. He will be held at the jail until a preliminary hearing, set for Feb. 6.

The gathering of Lindh, Hanssen and Moussaoui — so far, the only person charged in the Sept. 11 attacks — is almost routine at the jail, which has housed several other spy suspects over the years, including Aldrich Ames and Harold James Nicholson, as well as alleged killers and drug kingpins.

Inmates such as Lindh and Moussaoui are in "administrative segregation" and will spend 23 hours daily behind the bars of their identical 80-square-foot cells.

Each has a mattress atop a concrete slab for a bed, an elevated concrete writing surface and stainless steel sink and toilet. Narrow openings pass as windows.

"They're limited in their movement, they're limited in their activities and especially limited in the contact they have with other inmates," Dunning said. "However, they are treated with dignity and respect and managed very safely and very securely."

No one has ever died while in custody at the jail, nor escaped from it, he said.

With suspected terrorists among the inmates, Dunning said, "We're concerned, but we're not terribly worried" that the jail itself may become a target.The jail is getting more attention and publicity lately because of its newest residents, but it has always handled "very, very high-risk, high-security and very dangerous inmates," Dunning said.

"Whether people are sociopaths or psychopathic killers or public inebriates, we have to handle the whole spectrum," he said.

Two years after they last saw their son, the parents of John Walker Lindh came to offer him their steadfast love and a spirited defense.

The parents, who are separated, watched their son's first, brief federal court appearance from the second row in the courtroom mindful that the process could end with his imprisonment for life if he should be convicted of helping his country's enemies.

Grim-faced, they then spoke briefly to reporters outside.

"John loves America. We love America," Frank Lindh said. "John did not do anything against America. John did not take up arms against America. He never meant to harm any American, and he never did harm any American. John is innocent of these charges."

Marilyn Walker said it had been wonderful after a two-year absence to spend time with her son, at a brief meeting before the hearing.

"My love for him is unconditional and absolute," she said softly. "I am grateful to God that he has been brought home to his family, me, his home and his country."

She appeared to have more to say but, on the verge of tears, left the microphone to be comforted by the elder Lindh.

Lindh's attorneys will find it difficult to invalidate the personal account he gave investigators Dec. 9 and 10 about his time with the Taliban, legal experts said Thursday.

While the defense contends Lindh asked for a lawyer starting Dec. 2, the government has a paper he signed that waived legal representation when the FBI interviewed him.