Afghan aid workers free

 After three months in captivity, the aid workers in Afghanistan detained for preaching Christianity reached safety today. Speaking at the German embassy in Islamabad this morning, they described their harrowing experiences. They had been evacuated from Kabul with fleeing Taliban forces, spent a freezing night locked in a metal container and a harrowing morning in jail under deafening artillery bombardment. "It was like a miracle," German detainee George Taubmann told reporters at a press conference today. The workers from Shelter Now International: Australians Peter Bunch and Diana Thomas, Americans Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer, and Germans Katrin Jelinek, Margrit Stebner and Silke Durrkopf were held in Kabul through more than a month of pounding US air strikes. Just as their hopes were raised on Monday by news opposition forces were poised to take Kabul, they were flung into a fresh ordeal - taken out of the capital by retreating Taliban forces heading towards their stronghold of Kandahar. "Just before Kabul fell we were so excited to get out, we heard already that troops were coming in. Then the Taliban came in and took us away, took us in vehicles and wanted to take us to Kandahar, and we knew that if we ended up in Kandahar we would probably not survive," Taubman said. On arrival in the town of Ghazni, about 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Kabul, the eight workers were locked in a metal container through a freezing night. "We had no blankets, nothing almost, because they said they will bring us to a nice different area, and we were freezing the whole night," he said. On Tuesday morning they were moved to a Ghazni jail just before opposition forces began a fierce artillery assault. "It was a terrible place," Taubmann said. "I think it was the worst place. We arrived at nine o'clock. Right when we came the bombardment started." Around 10 am there was an anti-Taliban uprising in the town and an hour later forces of the Northern Alliance flung open the prison doors, Taubmann said, adding that the aid workers initially feared it was the Taliban coming back to get them. "We were really scared," he said. Released from prison, the aid workers received a rapturous reception from the people of Ghazni. "The people came out of the houses and they hugged us and they greeted us, they were all clapping. They didn't know there were foreigners in the prison so it was a big attraction... it was like a big celebration for all these people. The biggest day in my life." But the aid workers were still deep inside a country at war. Bernard Barrett, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Islamabad, said a local opposition commander in Ghazni contacted the ICRC to try to arrange their evacuation. After another night in Ghazni, a decision was made yesterday to bring them out by air. "At one point yesterday a decision was made - the best, the fastest and the safest way would be to evacuate by the air and at that point we basically stepped back from the operation," Barrett told CNN. Three Special Operations helicopters buzzed into a field near Ghazni and picked up the aid workers early this morning, the Pentagon said. Australian diplomat Alistair Adams said there had been logistics problems before the aid workers were evacuated. "They are very fortunate to be able to get out," he said. There has been no word on the fate of 16 Afghan aid workers detained on similar charges with the Westerners.

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