KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Fears for the safety of two captive Americans and six other foreign aid workers grew yesterday after the fleeing Taliban yanked them from their cells and hustled them to the south along with the retreating allies of Osama bin Laden.

“Obviously to me this is rather devastating news,” John Mercer, the father of American 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, where the Taliban are based, for their own safety.

The Taliban “felt that if they were left there that harm may come to them from some of the extremists” in the opposition, he told NBC”s “Today” show.

“The Taliban has continually assured us that they will be kept safe,” he said.

The eight were hustled out of a Kabul prison in the dark early yesterday and a guard said the foreigners seemed to think they were being freed.

They were not. Fleeing the Afghan capital as their northern alliance foes closed in, the Taliban put the foreign captives into a blue pickup truck and drove away, guards said, taking them south to Kandahar.

The eight aid workers have been held by the Taliban since August on charges of proselytizing Christianity in Muslim Afghanistan.

They were moved so quickly that their suitcases, toiletries and drying laundry were left behind in the squalid prison.

“They were very happy, because they thought they would be released,” said Abdul Raouf, a guard who said the foreigners” captors hustled them into the truck during the night. Some guards said they left around midnight, other said closer to dawn.

Columns of Taliban troops headed south overnight, abandoning the capital as fighters from the northern alliance entered.

The aid workers, six women and two men from German-based Christian organization Shelter Now International, had been detained in Kabul since Aug. 3, and Taliban judges had been trying them on proselytizing charges.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he could not confirm that the detainees had been transferred.

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