Taliban Suspect Christian Plot Among Western Aid Workers

Associated Press
DATELINE: KABUL, Afghanistan, Aug. 12, 2001

A week after jailing eight foreigners on charges of preaching Christianity,
the Taliban government said today that they suspect a larger conspiracy by
Western aid groups to convert Afghan Muslims.

The Taliban foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, said today that
Taliban investigators had uncovered considerable evidence of large-scale
conversion attempts and want to question other foreign aid groups, including
the United Nations World Food Program.

"Unfortunately some organizations under the guise of helping poor Afghans
are preaching Christianity," Mr. Muttawakil said. "The investigators are
looking at a larger conspiracy by countries and organizations to try to
convert good Afghan Muslims to Christianity."

The Taliban, who espouse a strict brand of Islam that considers attempts to
convert Muslims a crime, arrested 8 foreign workers and 16 Afghan staff
members with a German-based aid group on Aug. 5 for allegedly preaching
Christianity. The group is part of a Christian organization called Vision
for Asia.

Among those arrested were two American women, four Germans and two
Australians.

Mr. Muttawakil said that the detained foreigners would not be released until
the investigation is completed and that diplomats will not be allowed to
visit them.

"We will give visas to the diplomats if they want to meet Taliban officials,
but if it is to see those in jail we will not give the visas," he said.

During the raid on the Shelter Now office, Taliban officials say they seized
compact discs, cassettes and literature containing stories about
Christianity and the coming of Jesus Christ -- all translated into local
languages.

The Taliban have forbidden proselytizing, and all international aid
organizations are warned against preaching religion. According to other aid
workers, they all agreed to abide by the Taliban rules.

"Our evidence is strong and we will be asking other organizations what they
know about activities to spread Christianity in Afghanistan," Mr. Muttawakil
said.

He made particular reference to the United Nations's World Food Program, or
W.F.P., suggesting the food aid group knowingly gave food to Shelter Now to
distribute as a means of enticing Afghan Muslims to Christianity.

"The W.F.P. should be ready to answer questions when our investigation is
completed because they must have known what this organization was doing and
that it was trying to convert Muslims," Mr. Muttawakil said.

A World Food Program spokesman, Francis Mwanza, said at the group's Rome
headquarters that it "has no religious intentions whatsoever."

"Our concern is to deliver food to nongovernmental organizations on the
ground who can get the food to the people," he said.

The relationship between the United Nations and the Taliban, who control
about 95 percent of Afghanistan, has been troubled in recent years. But it
deteriorated further following the imposition of fresh United Nations
sanctions in January.

The sanctions, which included an arms embargo against the Taliban but not
against its northern-based opponents, were imposed to press the hard-line
militia to close terrorist training camps and hand over Osama bin Laden, who
is wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of two American Embassies in
East Africa that killed 224 people.

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