KABUL, Afghanistan -- Fleeing the opposition advance on Kabul, the Taliban whisked away eight imprisoned foreign aid workers, including two American women, taking them south on Tuesday to the city of Kandahar.
The workers were moved so quickly under cover of darkness that their suitcases, toiletries and drying laundry were left behind in the squalid, concrete prison where they have been held on charges of preaching Christianity in this Muslim nation.
Guards said the eight workers appeared to believe initially that they were being freed. Their Taliban captors hustled them into a dark blue pickup truck sometime Monday night.
"They were very happy, because they thought they would be released," said one guard, Abdul Raouf. Another guard said they left at midnight.
Columns of Taliban troops headed south from Kabul overnight, abandoning the capital as fighters from the opposition northern alliance entered. The aid workers from Germany-based Shelter Now International -- two Americans, two Australians and four Germans -- have been detained in Kabul since Aug. 3, and Taliban judges had been trying them on proselytizing charges.
"Obviously to me this is rather devastating news," John Mercer, the father of American aid worker Heather Mercer, 24, said from Islamabad, the capital of neighboring Pakistan. "We were hoping that the trial would have been concluded this week."
Mercer said he had been told by the Taliban embassy in Islamabad that the workers had been taken to Kandahar for their own safety.
The Taliban "felt that if they (the workers) ... were left there that harm may come to them from some of the extremists" in the opposition, he told NBC's "Today" show. Mercer said he would contact the embassy again Wednesday.
"The Taliban has continually assured us that they will be kept safe," he said.
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