prisons, United States President George W. Bush said Thursday, November 15, that he was "thankful" for their release.
Speaking at a news conference in Texas where he as been meeting his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the President told reporters the release of the eight Christians was "incredibly good news" and he praised the U.S military.
President Bush stressed the military operation to give them freedom, which involved U.S helicopters, was carried out in close cooperation with the International Red Cross and other non-governmental groups on the ground.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a statement that the eight aid workers from America, Australia and Germany were all in "good physical condition." He stressed that the efforts to release them "involved many people and several entities." Rumsfeld said that the "U.S. forces performed the extraction well and the American people can be proud of them."
In Islamabad, the Capital of neighboring Pakistan, there were scenes of joy as the eight aid workers embraced family members and talked about "miracles," surrounding their release. The leader, of the group, German aid worker Georg Taubmann, described how suddenly their prison doors were opened, resembling bible stories about Apostles.
"The Massood people came, and others from the alliance, and broke into the prison and just opened the doors," he said shortly after his arrival in Islamabad. Taubmann explained that the Taliban left them in a prison in Gazni, some 50 milers (80 kilometres) from the Capital Kabul. The Taliban rulers had reportedly taken them as hostages and moved them from Kabul Monday, November 12, just before it fell to Northern Alliance troops.
Taubmann said the anti-Taliban forces broke open the prison cells, after the group was forced to spend the night in a chilly, steel shipping container. "We were really scared, and then the Northern Alliance people came in and we were free and we got out of prison. We walked through the city and the people came out of their houses and hugged us and greeted us, and they were all clapping."
All detainees, Australians Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas, Americans Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, and Germans — Taubmann, Katrin Jelinek, Margrit Stebner and Silke Durrkopf, appeared to be healthy as they were driven to their embassies.
Alistair Adam, an Australian Embassy official, said the workers — held for more than three months after being detained by the Taliban on charges of trying to convert Muslims to Christianity — were tired and wanted to wash. "They’re very elated to be free at last. They seem perfectly fine to me. They’re rational, and they’ve coped very well with this situation."
ANSWER TO PRAYERS
Their release was seen as an answer to prayers of thousands of Christians around the world, who reportedly joined in special 24 hour prayer chains. It is "another glaring example of how we are not to give up in prayer for a situation, and to confidently trust and rely on the Lord completely," said American Beth Ann Richards in one of several e-mail messages BosNewsLife received.
Recording artist Chris, whose real name is Christopher Pick, and who plans to dedicate a CD to them and other missionary workers, told BosNewsLife that "It’s interesting how God" works. "Just when hope seems lost, He pulls through," Chris said.
"I remember reading your (BosNewsLife) news release a few days ago about the aid workers being taken hostage and reading those quotes from Mercer’s father. I remember reading how so many people who had been in prayers around the world were disappointed over this," he added.
Chris stressed that he had then sent "a prayer request about it to friends" around the world. "One friend told me that they won’t make it. Then, heard the news. (Aidworker) Georg was right when he said, "God is with us!" It looks like Dayna also got a nice belated 30th-birthday gift too…to be united with her family," Chris said.
"We are so thankful for the hunderds of not thousands of people who have communicated that they are praying for these ladies," told Pastor Jimmy Seibert of the Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, the home congregation of detained Americans Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry.
Seibert, who had set up 24-hour prayer networks with his congregation, made clear that churches "hold all-night prayer services for them; some churches even fasted and prayed for their release." He said that "in many other ways Christians all over the world, literally," have been praying on behalf of both the detainees "and the nation of Afghanistan."
PRAYERS FOR AFGHANISTAN
Dayna Curry, who celebrated her 30th birthday in captivity, had earlier urged Christians to pray also for Afghanistan. "If we weren’t here I don’t think near as many people would be lifting this place up," she wrote in a letter to her congregation, seen by BosNewsLife.
On hearing the news Nancy Cassell, the mother of Curry said she was relieved to hear about her daughters’ safety. However joy about the eight Christians’ day of freedom was slightly tempered by confusion of the whereabouts of their 16 Afghan co-workers who have been held separately. Those familiar with their case have expressed deep concern about their situation.
The Afghans and Westerners were arrested by the feared religious police of the Taliban August 3, on charges of spreading the Gospel in this mainly Moslem nation, that could potentially carry the death penalty under the regime’s strict interpretation of Islamic law.
All aid workers have always denied the accusations saying they just offered humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of refugees and street kids while working for the German charity Shelter Now.
Their world-wide publicized trial was 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.
On Thursday November 15, Pentagon officials said they believe that some leaders of Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network and Taliban officials were killed in the U.S airstikes, the Cable News Network reported. It came as U.S. Homeland Secretary Director Tom Ridge conformed Thursday, November 15, that nuclear weapons-related documents were found in an al Qaueda safehouse in Afghanistan.
He suggested that the discovery "underscores the idea that the U.S has to be prepared for a variety" of terrorist threats. In Afghanistan the British Broadcasting Corporation reported that Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is speaking of a plan in the works to destroy the U.S.
"The current situation in Afghanistan is related to a bigger cause–that is the destruction of America," Omar was quoted as saying. "If God’s help is with us, this will happen within a short period of time," he said. There was no evidence on the battlefield of an imminent threat from Taliban forces, who reportedly lost hundreds of fighters.
TALIBAN LOSES GROUND
Eye-witnesses said Thursday, November 15, that on the front lines thousands of Taliban troops dug in and around the city of Konduz, their last stronghold in northern Afghanistan. Analysts said that if Northern Alliance captures Konduz it would open land routes for desperately needed aid and supplies from neighboring Tajikistan.
Following the detention of the aid workers, several Western organizations moved out, and air strikes made the work of those staying behind nearly impossible. At least hundreds of thousands of people are now said to be in need of humanitarian help.