Texas Church Overjoyed at News of Aid Workers´ Release

8 Foreigners in Afghanistan Airlifted to Freedom by U.S. Military

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WASHINGTON, D.C., NOV. 15, 2001 (Zenit.org).- When Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, heard the news that two of its members were freed in Afghanistan along with six other foreign aid workers, the reaction was immediate.

Senior pastor Jimmy Seibert thrust his arms into the air and shouted, «Thank you, Lord!»

«It is more exciting than we could have imagined,» said Seibert. «The great thing I learned is that prayer works.»

Church members Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry, along with six other aid workers, were airlifted to freedom Wednesday by U.S. military helicopters. They had been held captive in Afghanistan for three months for preaching Christianity.

The Taliban militia had agreed to release the aid workers but left them behind as they fled from Northern Alliance rebels, paving the way for their rescue, senior Bush administration officials said.

Three U.S. special forces helicopters picked up the aid workers in a field near Ghazni, about 50 miles southwest of Kabul, at about 4:40 p.m. EST, Pentagon officials said.

The aid workers were flown to Pakistan, where some were to be reunited with family, and appeared to be in good health, officials said.

«They´re on their way here. I´m happy and I want to get ready to go where they come in,´´ said Nancy Cassell, the mother of aid worker Dayna Curry, before dawn today local time in Islamabad.

U.S. President George W. Bush hailed the dramatic turn of events.

«I´m thankful they´re safe, and I´m pleased with our military for conducting this operation,´´ Bush said at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Bush had rejected several attempts by the Taliban to use the aid workers as bargaining chips.

The Taliban had agreed to turn over the aid workers through the International Committee of the Red Cross, two senior administration officials said. The Red Cross was going to get them in the hands of U.S. troops. But before the exchange could be accomplished, the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance overran Ghazni, prompting the Taliban and the workers´ guards to flee.

Bush said only that the International Red Cross and other «people on the ground facilitated» U.S. troops´ ability to rescue the aid workers.

He said the rescue of the aid workers ended one chapter in the 5-week-old U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, but the mission remained to topple the Taliban and root out Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.

In Nashville, Tennessee, Dayna Curry´s stepmother, Sue Fuller, told a reporter she was elated at her stepdaughter´s release.

«I´m so excited that we´re going to see her soon and that she´s safe,´´ Fuller said. «I just think, you know, she trusted that God would take care of her and get her out of there safely, and it´s happened.´´

The eight workers — including four Germans and two Australians — are employees of the German-based Christian organization Shelter Now International. They have been held since Aug. 3 on charges of trying to convert Muslims — a serious offense under the Taliban´s harsh Islamic rule.

Taliban Supreme Court judges had indefinitely postponed their trial, saying they feared their anger at the United States over the air strikes could hamper their ability to make a fair ruling in the case.

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