ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) -- To while away long days in Taliban jails and weeks without contact with the outside world, aid workers prayed, sang and even killed flies, Heather Mercer said Friday, a day after departing Afghanistan in a dramatic end to a three-month ordeal.
The thunder of U.S. bombs on the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Oct. 7 broke their boredom, she said Friday at a news conference in Islamabad.
"Our building was shaking, our prison was shaking, all we could do was sit in the hallway and pray with all our hearts that the building wouldn't be damaged in any way," Mercer said.
Weeks later, after a cold, sleepless night in a steel shipping container, the 24-year-old and her seven colleagues from the aid group Shelter Now International found themselves in a new prison south of Kabul on Tuesday, with rockets crashing down on the contested town.
Men banged on the prison doors. The eight, held in five separate prisons for more than three months, believed their Taliban captors were returning, and their fate seemed increasingly uncertain amid chaos closing in on them.
To their surprise, an anti-Taliban soldier "came in with reams of ammunition around his neck. He was shouting, 'you're free, you're free,"' Mercer said. Later, U.S. special forces troops swooped down in a nighttime pickup from the Afghan city of Ghazni in what she called "a Hollywood rescue."
Looking rested after a day with relatives in Islamabad, Mercer and fellow American Dayna Curry -- both graduates of Baylor University in Waco, Texas -- recounted their ordeal, which began with their arrest Aug. 3 on charges of attempting to convert Muslim Afghans to Christianity.
Mercer and Curry, 30, were upbeat, sustained by their Christian faith, the support of their families and efforts by the U.S. government. They described playing cards, hand-washing their clothes and exercising to pass the tedium of captivity.
The Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States and the ensuing war in Afghanistan complicated their case and may have delayed their release, the two said.
In addition to the two Americans, four Germans, two Australians and 16 Afghans were arrested. The Afghans were also freed Tuesday, when the Taliban pulled out of the capital, abandoning the jail.
The Taliban interrogated the aid workers for 22 hours over the first three days of their captivity, the Americans said. Conditions were harsh, but the Taliban never mistreated them, they said.
The Taliban allowed, and even encouraged them to pray and sing, asking only that they be quiet during the Muslim prayer times.
However, Afghan prisoners were routinely abused, they said.
"We saw some pretty atrocious things," Mercer said. "Women were being beaten until they bled."
They plan to leave Pakistan on Sunday and return to the United States after spending some time in Europe.
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