John Mercer emerged from a 20-minute meeting with Taliban diplomats in Islamabad to say they had confirmed the six women and two men were well but had been taken by retreating Taliban forces from Kabul.Mercer, who has been seeking his daughter's release since shortly after the arrest of the group early in August, said the Taliban refused to discuss freeing the humanitarian workers.
The two Americans, two Australians and four Germans -- members of the German-based Christian charity Shelter Now International -- were awaiting trial after being detained by the hardline Islamic Taliban for allegedly spreading Christianity.
A senior Western diplomat said last week the eight were being constantly moved between different locations in Kabul, possibly to prevent a commando raid to rescue them, and were now clearly hostages.A visibly worried Mercer, father of Heather Mercer, had gone to the Taliban embassy in Islamabad after Northern Alliance forces began moving into the Afghan capital overnight as the Taliban fled south toward Kandahar.
`It's very distressing. If I sit back and try to analyze it, you know, it is quite possible that the Taliban consider that they still have an effective government and they can still have a trial in Kandahar,' Mercer told CNN.``That's one way to look at it.The other is that maybe they are going to be pawns for some leverage in political negotiations. I still have hope that the Taliban have kept them safe for over 100 days now and they will continue to do so,'' Mercer said.The trial of the eight aid workers had just begun when the U.S.-led military campaign was launched against the Taliban for sheltering Osama bin Laden (news - web sites), blamed for the suicide- hijacking attacks in the United States that killed some 4,600 people.
Atif Ali, a Pakistani lawyer hired to represent the eight, said Mercer went to the embassy to learn where the aid workers were and how the trial could proceed in current circumstances. The Taliban had rejected earlier appeals by family and governments to release the aid workers, who have denied trying to convert Afghans from Islam. There has been no news on the fate of 16 local employees of the charity arrested at the same time.