that his hard-line movement was considering a prisoner swap with the United States to free eight detained Western Christian relief workers. Reports from the region said that relatives of blind Egyptian militant Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, currently serving a life term in the United States for terrorism, proposed the prison exchange.

Sheikh Omar, spiritual leader of Egypt’s main militant group a-Gama’s al-Islamiya (Islamic Group), was convicted in 1995 of plotting to blow up the World Trade Center, bomb the United Nations, kill Egypt’s president and destroy New York tunnels.

"The case of Western nationals, arrested for promoting Christianity in Afghanistan, opens the door of hope for exchanging some of them for Sheikh Omar Abdel-ahman," said a letter from the sheikh’s family to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.


Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told reporters he knew nothing about the proposal and warned that the men and women from the United States, Germany  and Australia cannot expect "lenient treatment."   

His comments came as the country’s first trial against people accused of preaching the Gospel continued, despite international concern over the legal procedures, which are happening behind closed doors. The Minister stressed that the Westerners and their 16 Afghan may face the death penalty for spreading Christianity.  

All are members of the German based Shelter Now organization which has maintained it merely helped tens of thousands of refugees in war ravaged Afghanistan, in the Biblical principle of helping the poor. But Taliban officials have said the Shelter Now staff members were arrested after "evidence" was gathered linking them to "insulting Islam and spreading Christianity."


Afghanistan’s religious police confiscated a Bible along with Christian materials during a raid on an office of the organization.  They also captured computer discs containing the story of the Life of Christ in the Dari language and other audio-visual material as part of what authorities described as "evidence collected from the agency workers."  

However Shelter Now’s director Esteban Witzmann told reporters recently that any Christian material was "only for personal use." More than a month after their arrest, relatives of the detainees continue to encourage them in prayers, letters and occasional personal visits.  

David Donahue, an Islamabad-based U.S. Diplomat in Kabul said he was pleased that the parents of two American young women Dayna Curry (29) and Heather  Mercer (24) were able to meet their daughters at an undisclosed location.

"The parents met the daughters today. They are very grateful and hopeful of more frequent visits. It was the family’s personal visit." The Reuters news agency quoted diplomatic sources as saying that a cousin of one of the Australian detainees was also able to meet his relative.  But despite these visits, there are now fears that the trial may take longer than expected.


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