Afghanistan Hoped to Exchange Christians for Terrorist Arrested in U.S.

Taliban Warned to Turn Over bin Laden, or Face Retaliation

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KABUL, Afghanistan, SEPT. 16, 2001 ( Before the attacks on the United States, Afghanistan was considering an exchange of eight foreign Christians, detained for propagating their faith, for a man linked to the 1993 bombing of New York´s World Trade Center.

Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said he has no doubt Osama bin Laden was involved in the suicide hijack attacks on the United States and warned that those who harbor terrorists face “the full wrath of the United States.”

Cheney singled out Afghanistan, where the exiled Saudi dissident is believed to operate, as a possible U.S. target, the Associated Press said. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Taliban, the Muslim fundamentalist militia that controls most of Afghanistan, faces a simple choice: deliver bin Laden or face near-certain retaliation, AP said.

Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman has been under arrest in the United States since 1995 for the 1993 attack at the World Trade Center.

Last Sunday, Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil denied that discussions had begun with Washington for the release of the Egyptian terrorist, in exchange for the expulsion of the Westerners.

However, he said Afghanistan might consider the idea of exchange, but only after the court case was over.

The Foreign Minister´s statements were published Wednesday by the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto, a day after the terrorist attacks on the United States.

The eight foreign co-workers include six women. They are Americans Heather Mercer and Dana Curry; Australians Diana Thomas and Peter Bunch; and Germans Georg Taubmann, Silke Duerrkopf, Margrit Stebner and Kati Jelinek. There is no news on the 16 Afghans arrested at the same time, nor of the 35 arrested later.

The court case, in which the foreigners are accused of converting Muslim faithful to Christianity, began Sept. 7. That day, the Taliban government intensified its campaign against international aid organizations, and displayed Bibles and films that it claimed were confiscated from workers expelled earlier in the month.

Should the co-workers be declared guilty, they might be condemned to death. This sentence is more likely for those who are Afghan citizens.

The whole affair is an attempt to harass Western humanitarian organizations and encourage Muslim charitable organizations to take their place. IAM (International Assistance Mission) and Serve, two respected aid groups, were given 72 hours to close down their offices and leave the country.

The Muslim authorities announced the establishment of a new commission to regulate aid organizations. The decree compels international groups to deposit their funds in the Afghan State Bank and to employ Afghans, approved by the government, in the administration of their work.

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