opposing the Taliban regime, eight detained Western Christian aid workers were rushed to the Taliban southern stronghold of Kandahar, local and family sources have reported.
"They were taken away with little notice, put in a van, and they said they were taking them to Kandahar," said John Mercer, the father of one of the aid workers. Mercer told the Cable News Network (CNN) that he heard about their ordeal from a reporter who "visited the prison this morning and was told by the guard that between 6:30 last night and midnight," they were taken away, shortly before the Northern Alliance entered the Capital.
Speaking to reporters in neighboring Pakistan, the father of 24-year-old American Heather Mercer said he had little doubt that the information was accurate. "I visited the Taliban embassy (in Islamabad) this morning and, while they did not come out and say ‘yes they’re in Kandahar,’ they led me to believe that’s where they were," he said.
The news appeared to have come as a big disappointment for thousands of Christians around the world who pray for Americans Heather Mercer, and Dayna Curry, Australians Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas, as well as Germans Georg Taubmann, Katrin Jelinek, Margrit Stebner and Silke Durrkopf.
The aid workers have been held by the Taliban since August 3 on charges of preaching the Gospel in this mainly Muslim nation, while working for the German charity Shelter Now, which reportedly has supported tens of thousands of refugees and street children.
There was still no word about the circumstances of the Westerners’ sixteen Afghan co-workers, who are held separately, in a country where even women have been openly executed in Kabul’s sports stadium for wearing wrong clothing. Under the Taliban’s strict interpretation of Islamic law, anyone converting a Muslim could face the death penalty.
Although analysts and legal experts had earlier pointed out that the foreigners may still be released, there were fresh fears Tuesday November 13 that the eight Christians were held as hostages as the Taliban is losing ground in the US-led war against terrorism.
A senior Western diplomat said last week the Christians were being "constantly moved" between different locations in Kabul, possibly to prevent a commando raid to rescue them, and that they "were now clearly hostages," CNN reported.
BosNewsLife learned last month that the eight were held in a bunker-like hide out for what the Taliban said was for "their own protection." A reportedly visibly worried Mercer told CNN he was angry and disappointed that the Taliban had moved his daughter to Kandahar, the Taliban’s Spiritual Capital.
"It’s very distressing. If I sit back and try to analyze it, you know, it is quite possible that the Taliban consider that they still have an effective government and they can still have a trial in Kandahar," Mercer said. "That’s one way to look at it.
"The other is that maybe they are going to be pawns for some leverage in political negotiations. I still have hope that the Taliban have kept them safe for over 100 days now and they will continue to do so," Mercer said.
He suggested it is possible the Taliban were holding the workers for "some sort of leverage" against the United States, which is leading air strikes on Taliban targets because the regime has been harboring suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
But despite the set backs, the aid workers themselves have suggested in letters they know that "God is with them" and that people around the world are praying for their release and future. "It is so good to hear that so many people are praying. I hope they are praying for this country along with us," wrote Dayna Curry, who celebrated November 4 her 30th birthday in captivity.
"We believe that is one of the main reasons we are here — to motivate and awaken people to pray for this nation," she wrote in a recent letter seen by BosNewsLife. "If we weren’t here I don’t think near as many people would be lifting this place up. Our Father in heaven is up to something great for this nation — and all the prayers are needed to help it come to pass. We are excited to see what He will do," Curry added.
She also wrote that she is "so thankful" for all those praying "and all the others at home that are laboring for us. I really don’t think we would be doing so well if people weren’t praying. We have seen God’s favour in so many ways. And His presence has been incredible."
Despite the absence of their lawyer, Mercer said his daughter Heather indicated the workers were being treated well. "They were preparing a nice meal for Dayna Curry, whose birthday was on the 4th (of November)," Mercer quoted his daughter as saying in a letter.
"Over the past few days it had been relatively quiet in Kabul proper and I think emotionally they had all come to develop a sense of resignation that they were in for the long haul, that they were doing OK emotionally but they certainly did want to get out of there as soon as they could."
"Obviously they know about the bombs – they have felt the building shake and hear the bombs," said earlier Pastor Jimmy Seibert of the Antioch Community Church in Waco Texas, the home church of detained Americans Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, before they were moved from Kabul.
The trial of the eight aid workers had been put on hold when the U.S.-led military campaign was launched October 7 against the Taliban for sheltering Osama bin Laden, who is seen as the mastermind behind the suicide-hijacking attacks in the United States that killed about 5,000 people.
However detained German aid worker Georg Taubmann said in a fax last month that he believes "God is in control of this whole situation." He reportedly wrote that "despite all that is going on, we have a deep peace and have put our trust in Him."
The Taliban chief justice had promised a fair trial but stressed that any punishment, including the death penalty, would ultimately be decided by the regime’s supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. He is believed to be based in Kandahar, where the eight are now said to be held.