organizations International Assistance Mission (IAM) and Serve on Friday, August 31, and ordered their estimated 50 foreign staff members to leave the country within 24 hours, Afghan officials confirmed.

Reports from the region said that the offices of IAM and Serve were closed Friday by armed religious police from the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.  Western diplomats described the move as part of a further crack down against Christianity in Islamic Afghanistan.

The move came less than 48 hours after Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil suggested that 24 detained workers of the German based Christian relief organization Shelter Now, including eight foreigners, will face an Islamic court, despite pleas from parents to release their children.

Under the regime’s strict interpretation of Islamic law anyone promoting or converting another religion than Islam could face the death penalty, although foreigners are expected to be expelled. Shelter Now has maintained that its main purpose was giving aid to the people of the war ravaged country and that Christian materials discovered among its staff were "for personal use."

"The Shelter Now Affair has poisoned the atmosphere and increased the mistrust among the Taliban and the local population," Germany’s DPA news agency quoted medical doctor Peter Schwittek as saying in Kabul, the Afghan Capital.

The head of the United Nations World Food Program, Catherine Bertini, warned this week that if aid workers were to be put to death in Afghanistan on proselytizing charges,  the fallout on international aid programs would be horrific.  "It is really impossible to comprehend. It would be so terrible. I would rather not even speculate about that horror," Bertini said.



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