Eight Aid Workers Free at Last

Friday, October 3, 2003

By: Stefan J. Bos, Special Correspondent ASSIST News Service

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- In what was seen as an answer to the prayers of thousands of Christians around the world, eight Christian aid workers detained in Afghanistan arrived safely in neighboring Pakistan, Thursday November 15, after more 100 days in captivity.

They were freed earlier by anti-Taliban fighters and rushed to safety aboard U.S. helicopters Thursday, in Ghazni, some 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the capital Kabul. The Taliban rulers had reportedly taken them as hostages and moved them from Kabul Monday, 12 November, just before it fell to Northern Alliance troops.

The head of the group, German aid worker Georg Taubmann, said the Taliban had tried to move them from Kabul to what was their stronghold in Kandahar, but that they only reached Ghazni.

The Taliban "wanted to take us to Kandahar, and we knew if you end up in Kandahar you would not survive there," Taubmann said, as he and other workers stepped out from cars, smiling and laughing.


He said the Taliban stopped Tuesday and their captors "put us all in a steel container. It was terribly cold and they wanted to lock the container and leave us there (until) morning, and we had no blankets..."

The next morning, he said, the detainees were taken to a jail in Ghazni, "which was a terrible place. It was the worst place. We have been in five prisons."

Taubmann said the eight were freed from the prison by anti-Taliban forces. "The Massood people came, and others from the alliance, and broke into the prison and just opened the doors ... We were really scared, and then the alliance people came in ... and we were free and we got out of prison and we walked through the city and the people came out of their houses and hugged us and greeted us, and they were all clapping ..."


Throughout their ordeal, which began August 3, Taubmann had always said he believes that "God is in control of this situation."

He described their eventual release Thursday as "one of the biggest days of my life."

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.


On hearing the news Nancy Cassell, mother of aid worker Dayna Curry said she was relieved to hear about her daughters' safety.

Curry, who celebrated November 4 her 30th birthday in captivity, had earlier said that she was sure that "many people are praying," and that this influenced their situation. "If we weren't here I don't think near as many people would be lifting this place up," she wrote in a letter seen by ASSIST News Service.

"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. The news about her release and others came also as relieve for those involved in prayer chains around the world.


Pastor Jimmy Seibert of the Antioch Community Church in Waco Texas, the home church of detained Americans Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, had set up 24-hour prayer networks. Christians in different countries, including recording artist Chris, whose real name is Christopher Pick, and who plans to dedicate a CD to them and other missionary workers, soon joined him.

"It's interesting how God works...just when hope seems lost, He pulls through," Chris told ASSIST News Service in a first reaction on hearing the news. "I remember reading your (ANS) 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 said.

Chris added 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, I heard the news, 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."


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.

They had been accused of preaching the Gospel in this mainly Muslim nation, a crime that could potentially carry the death penalty under the Taliban's strict interpretation of Islamic law.

The aid workers have always denied the charges saying they just offered humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of refugees and street kids while working for the German charity Shelter Now.

Although the eight Western aid workers are free, it is still unclear what the situation is of their 16 Afghan co-workers who were held separately by the Taliban. Those familiar with their case have expressed deep concern about their situation.