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Taliban Reportedly Takes Along Jailed Foreigners

November 13, 2001|From Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — Taliban officials forced eight foreign aid workers to go with them as they fled Kabul early today ahead of advancing opposition forces, a jail guard said.

The defendants--two American women, two Australians and four Germans--are accused of spreading Christianity.

"I saw them with my own eyes. They put them in the truck and then left at midnight. They said they are going to Kandahar," said Ajmal Mir, a guard at the abandoned detention center where the eight had been held in the heart of the city.

President Bush ordered air attacks on Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to hand over Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants in connection with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed at least 4,500 people in the United States.

The eight employees of German-based Shelter Now International--Americans Heather Mercer, 24, and Dayna Curry, 30; Germans George Taubmann, Margrit Stebnar, Katrin Jelinek and Silke Duerrkopf; and Australians Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas--have been in jail since early August.

In an interview with Associated Press on Monday, Supreme Court Justice Maulvi Mir Habibullah said the aid workers were being well cared for. He said the court had issued orders to the guards at the detention center to treat them kindly.

"We have told them that they are human beings and should be treated with goodness," he said. "They are separate from this new war we are facing. They should not be blamed for it."

On Monday, the court said it had indefinitely postponed the trial of the eight, fearing that the judges' anger over the U.S. airstrikes would prevent them from making a fair ruling.

"What is happening between America and the Taliban has nothing to do with the court case against the detainees. We will not allow the two to be linked," he said.

As Habibullah spoke, the thud of antiaircraft fire could be heard along with the roar of U.S. jets apparently heading toward the front line, barely 15 miles north of Kabul. Hours later, the Taliban had fled.

Mercer's father, John, said the Taliban had assured him that the U.S. campaign would not influence the ruling on the aid workers. He speculated that the Taliban might use the workers as "leverage" in any negotiations, or release them in a show of goodwill.

John Mercer and Heather Mercer's mother, Deborah Oddy, are in Pakistan along with Curry's mother, Nancy Cassell, while the airstrikes continue.

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