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Lawyer hopeful Afghans will expel aid workers

Attif Ali Khan is representing the aid workers detained in Afghanistan.
Attif Ali Khan is representing the aid workers detained in Afghanistan.  

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The attorney for eight detained Western aid workers expressed "full confidence" Thursday that his clients would receive a fair trial and said he was optimistic that even if they were convicted of proselytizing Christianity -- a crime in this Muslim nation -- their punishment could simply be expulsion from the country.

"The punishment in this case is the prerogative of the judge to sentence, not particular punishment under Islamic law, so he can basically give any punishment he wants," said attorney Attif Ali Khan. "But we think in this matter, compassion will play a very big part."

Speaking with CNN, Khan discounted the suggestion that possible U.S. military strikes against Afghanistan -- in the wake of last month's terrorists attacks against the United States -- could complicate matters and turn his clients into political pawns.

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"No, I don't believe that this will be linked up with the political situation," he said.

However, Khan said, his clients are rattled by the possibility of Afghanistan being the target of U.S. military action.

"They're fearing a U.S. strike and that's getting to their nerves," he said.

The United States has been highly critical of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for allowing suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden to live and train in the country.

Khan said that one of his clients -- Heather Mercer -- had not been not feeling well Wednesday, but was seen by a doctor and was feeling better.

Khan said the chief justice has also said that Mercer's parents are "most welcome" to visit their daughter, and that diplomats and journalists could also attend the proceedings.

John Mercer, the woman's father, said the lawyer had informed him that his daughter was "emotionally spent" and had a rough night because she heard fighting in Kabul.

"She's very afraid and very nervous," Mercer said.

The trial itself is on hold to allow Khan to prepare for the case.

The eight aid workers have been held by Afghanistan's Taliban rulers since early August. They are members of Shelter Now International, a German relief agency that provided food and homes to the poor of Afghanistan.

Western officials have not seen the aid workers since September 1, when the Taliban allowed some family members to visit them for the first time since they were detained.

Khan said he reviewed an English translation of the charges Thursday morning and said they were not that strong.

"They talk about three or four people who have actually tried to convert people by going into the homes of the Afghans," Khan said. "The charges against the rest of them are not that compelling, that is basically what I can say at this point."


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