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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 11:16 GMT
Aid worker tells of 'miracle' escape
Prison cell in Kabul
The prison cell in Kabul where the Westerners were held
One of the foreign aid workers freed after three months in Taleban captivity has spoken of their ordeal and their dramatic escape.

"It's like a miracle that we've escaped unhurt", said a smiling Georg Taubmann, one of the freed Germans, when he arrived at his country's embassy in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

We walked into the city and the people came out of the houses and hugged us. It was like a big celebration.

Georg Taubmann
He and his colleagues - two Americans, two Australians and three other Germans - were detained in early August on charges of promoting Christianity, a serious offence under the Taleban's harsh Islamic rule.

The Westerners, all working for the German-based aid group Shelter Now International, were held in a Kabul prison through more than a month of pounding US air strikes.

They had hoped to be released when the Taleban decided to abandon the Afghan capital earlier this week.

"Just before Kabul fell we were so excited to get out, we heard already that troops were coming in", said Mr Taubmann, looking healthy despite months spent in capitivity.

Released aid worker Georg Taubmann
Georg Taubmann: "The biggest day in my life."
"And then the Taleban came and took us away."

"(They) wanted to take us to Kandahar and we knew if we ended up in Kandahar, we would probably not survive there."

When they reached the town of Ghazni, about 80 kilometres south of Kabul, the aid workers were put in a steel container.

"It was terribly cold. They wanted to lock the container and leave us in there until the morning. We had no blankets. We were freezing the whole night", Mr Taubman recalls.

On Tuesday morning, they were placed in the town's squalid prison - just before opposition forces began a fierce artillery assault on the town.

There was an anti-Taleban uprising in the town and shortly afterwards the prison doors were flung open by Northern Alliance soldiers.

Mr Taubmann says the aid workers initially feared the Taleban were coming back but, to their relief, they received a rapturous reception from the people of Ghazni.

Alliance protection

"We walked into the city and the people came out of the houses and they hugged us. They were 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....The biggest day in my life."

The Northern Alliance provided protection for the aid workers until three US helicopters picked them up in the early hours of Thursday morning and flew them to Pakistan.

They are now at their embassies to meet their families and officials.

The BBC's Jill McGivering
"This was the moment they have dreamed of for months"
The BBC's Tim Franks
sees the celebrations at the Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas
See also:

29 Sep 01 | South Asia
Kabul aid workers trial delayed
13 Sep 01 | South Asia
Detained Afghan aid workers left behind
05 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban 'may execute' aid workers
01 Sep 01 | South Asia
Foreign volunteers leave Kabul
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