KABUL, Afghanistan – Eight foreign aid workers were taken with the Taliban as the ruling Afghan militia fled the capital Kabul when opposition forces moved into the city Tuesday.
A jail guard at the abandoned detention center in Kabul said the workers — two American women, two Australians and four Germans — were put in a truck by Taliban forces. "They said they are going to Kandahar," said Ajmal Mir.
The eight employees of Germany-based Shelter Now International — Americans Heather Mercer, 24, and Dayna Curry, 30; Germans George Taubmann, Margrit Stebnar, Kati Jelinek and Silke Duerrkopf; and Australians Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas — have been in jail since early August after being accused of spreading Christianity in Muslim Afghanistan.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Monday, Supreme Court Justice Maulvi Mir Habibullah said the aid workers were being well cared for. He said the court issued orders to the guards at the detention center in the heart of Kabul to treat the aid workers kindly.
"We have told them that they are human beings and should be treated with goodness," he said. "They are separate from this new war we are facing. They should not be blamed for it."
On Monday, the court said it had indefinitely postponed the trial of eight, fearing their anger over the U.S. airstrikes would prevent them from making a fair ruling.
President Bush ordered the air attacks after the Taliban refused to hand over Usama bin Laden and his lieutenants in connection with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that killed at least 4,500 people in the United States.
"The bombardment and the court case are two separate things. We do not want one to involve the other," Habibullah said.
"What is happening between America and the Taliban has nothing to do with the court case against the detainees. We will not allow the two to be linked," he said.
As Habibullah spoke, the thud of anti-aircraft fire could be heard along with the roar of U.S. jets apparently heading toward the front line, barely 15 miles north of Kabul. Hours later early Tuesday, the Taliban had fled the city toward the south and the northern alliance began moving in.
Mercer's father, John, said the Taliban has assured him the U.S. campaign would not influence the ruling on the aid workers. He speculated the Taliban might use the workers as "leverage" in any negotiations, or release them in a show of goodwill.
"Their priorities because of the bombing have given them other priorities they need to address," he said. "They're probably just trying to figure out what's the best thing to do next."
John Mercer and Heather Mercer's mother, Deborah Oddy, are in Pakistan along with Curry's mother, Nancy Cassell, while the airstrikes continue. They say they haven't heard from their children since the end of October, when their lawyer, Atif Ali Khan, last visited them.
Khan has tried to get an indication from the court as to when the case may be wrapped up, but so far has been unsuccessful. He was expected to return to Afghanistan this week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.