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Western Aid Detainees in Afghanistan Are Shaken, Uninjured - 2001-10-08

The eight Western aid workers being detained by Taleban authorities in Afghanistan are reported to be shaken by the U.S. and British air strikes, but were not injured by first wave of attacks. That word came from the German-based aid agency Shelter Now, which denies any of its eight workers, including two Americans, were involved in distributing Christian literature.

The trial of the eight aid workers had already been underway when the U.S.-led bombing of alleged terrorist targets in Afghanistan began.

"They are inside of a war now," said Shelter Now chairman Udl Stolte. He told VOA, the four Germans, two Americans, and two Australians survived the attacks, and as far as he knows, there have been no reprisals from their Taleban captors. "I think that every one of the detainees is doing well because the attacks went to all surrounding areas of Kabul and not to the city and our people are somewhere inside of Kabul and they are feeling okay. But the two young American ladies are somehow in some distress of course, understandable," Mr. Stolte said from his office in Germany.

He's unable to contact anyone in Kabul directly and nothing he has heard so far points to a quick release of the eight, who have been detained since early August. "We just spoke to their lawyer. He's in Peshawar, Pakistan preparing for the case. He will try to go back to Kabul tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, it depends on how the situation is then. Maybe the trial will be resumed then," Mr. Stolte said.

But in what could be a ray of hope, the Taleban released a British journalist Monday who had been held for 10 days on charges of sneaking into the country. On the eve of the attacks, John Mercer, the father of detained American aid worker Heather Mercer, told reporters in Pakistan he was hopeful the Taleban would show mercy and not deliberately put the eight in harm's way. "Their religion Islam is a very humane, very just religion and for them to use these detainees as political pawns would certainly, in my opinion, would not rest well with the rest of the Muslim world. So I don't think that they would be doing that intentionally," Mr. Mercer said.

Sixteen Afghans are also being detained. They could be sentenced to death if they are found guilty of spreading Christianity. Shelter Now says it has heard absolutely nothing about their fate and is very concerned.