free eight Western aid workers charged with spreading Christianity in this mainly Moslim nation.
The Cable News Network quoted Taliban officials as saying that the request was made by Muslim clerics and Government officials visiting from Pakistan, who also demanded the release of suspected Islamic terrorist Osama bin Laden.
There were indications that even Pakistani clerics put pressure on the regime to release the Christian aid workers. The Afghan Islamic News Agency said the clerics had met the regime’s spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in the southern city of Kandahar where he is based.
Pakistan has urged Afghanistan to cooperate with the West, and avoid an all out American military assault on the country, where United Nations officials fear the number of refugees could rise to 2.5 million people.
However in a controversial interview with the Voice of America radio and television network Taliban Leader Mullah Omar said Osama bin Laden would not be surrendered and the Taliban is prepared for war.
"This is not just an issue of Osama bin Laden. This is an issue of Islam, Islam throughout the world. Islam’s prestige is at stake; so is Afghan tradition. Whether Afghans uphold their tradition and protect their honour is another issue," he said.
Mullah Omar stressed Afghanistan is ready to face a U.S. attack. If the Taliban had feared an attack, he added, it would have given up Osama bin Laden "when the United States struck us earlier."
The Taliban leader sought to explain his decision by saying he is pondering two promises. One is the promise of God; the other is that of President George W. Bush. God, he said, promises the Taliban will be protected anywhere on earth if its members stay true to their religion.
"Bush promises to find us no matter where we hide. We will see, whose promise is fulfilled." Mullah Omar warned that America brought on the evil that is assailing it. "America must change its policies or the evil will endure."
News about the latest diplomatic set back came as United States Christians continued to pray for the release of all aid workers, including two American young women.
The evangelical Antioch Community Church in Waco Texas, had earlier appealed to all Americans to remember its congregation members Heather Mercer (24) and Dayna Curry (29) as well as six other Western and 16 Afghan Christians.
They have been working for the German based Christian charity Shelter Now, which has supported tens of thousands of refugees. However Taliban religious police officials have accused the organization of preaching the Gospel and trying to covert Moslims, which can carry the death penalty under the regime’s interpretation of Islamic law.
There were indications Friday, September 28, that the situation of the jailed Christians became more difficult as tensions were rising in the region. Residents in the Afghan Capital Kabul reportedly ran for cover when a test of the city’s air defenses was mistaken for an American attack.
The Taliban had earlier warned the population in radio messages to prepare for war against the United States. Meanwhile several hundred Taliban solders were said to have massed along a battle line about 31 miles (50 km) north of the Afghan Capital Kabul. The rebel Northern Alliance, which opposes the Taliban, said it had send extra soldiers to the area in reaction to the build-up.
And in further signs that foreigners are at risk, a British Journalist was arrested in Afghanistan by the Taliban for allegedly entering the country illegally. Taliban officials and journalists confirmed that Sunday Express correspondent Yvonne Ridley was taken into custody near Jalalabad, a city near the eastern border with Pakistan.
There are fears among parents and diplomats that foreigners, including the detained Christians, will be caught in the middle of the cross fire if the U.S. decides take military action to punish those responsible for the hijacked plane attacks on what was the New York World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In New York, the estimates of missing people have been revised downward to 5, 960 people because of duplications in reporting. On Friday, September 28, Mayor Rudi Giuliani said the number of confirmed dead is 305, of which 238 have been identified.
BosNewsLife has learned that many Christians were among the "near misses" and Church officials say several churches in both New York and Washington had fewer funeral services than expected.