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Taleban Arrests Aid Workers for Spreading Christianity - 2001-08-07

Eight foreign aid workers, including two Americans, are under arrest in Afghanistan, charged by the country's Islamic rulers with spreading Christianity. This is a crime that carries the death penalty under the strict brand of Islamic law imposed by the country's Taleban rulers.

Reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul, say Taleban authorities confiscated a Bible along with Christian literature from the office of a group called Shelter Now, which provides aid to Afghan refugees. Two American women are among those being held. Both are reported to be in good condition.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says U.S. officials are working through Taleban representatives in neighboring Pakistan to try to secure their release. "We will continue our efforts to obtain information about the welfare of these Americans," Mr. Boucher said. "We are working to try to secure a swift resolution of these issues."

Norman Leatherwood, the director of Wisconsin-based Shelter Now International, says the two Americans were not working for his organization but for a German aid group that sometimes goes by the same name. It's possible, he says, that both may have had Bibles or Christian literature but only for their own personal reading, not to preach Christianity in a country where all religion except Islam is banned.

"It appears to me that the evidence that has been collected in the search of both Afghan staff homes and in the homes of the expats that were detained has not turned up anything that would indicate that there is a large-scale planned effort at proselytizing and nothing to indicate that these people were in the country for anything other than what they said they were," he said.

In Kabul, a Taleban official told reporters an investigation is underway into the aid workers' alleged activities. He says their fate will be determined according to Islamic law.