Holy warriors swarm at Afghan border ready to fight
Sunday October 28, 8:31 PM
LAGHARAY, Pakistan (Reuters) - Thousands of armed men prepared to cross into Afghanistan from Pakistan on Sunday to join the Taliban in a holy war against the United States and its allies.
The huge crowd of Pakistanis and exiled Afghans gathered in the small town of Lagharay in the tribal area of Bajaur, around six km (four miles) from the frontier, carrying a dizzying array of arms from 19th Century muskets to modern machineguns.
Young and old, fit and lame, they came from miles around to volunteer to fight against the U.S.-led campaign to unseat Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and hunt down Saudi-born militant Osama bin laden and his al Qaeda network.
Bearing home-made backpacks filled with clothes, blankets and food, the men collected in the dusty town square to hear religious speakers exhort them to do their duty for Islam.
"We must protect our brother Muslims," said one holy warrior. "This is the first of the Muslim armies."
Pakistani religious groups have been threatening to raise a volunteer force for Afghanistan since the U.S. bombing campaign started on October 7, but it has only been in the last two days that large groups of men have headed to the border to fight.
The Pakistan government's support for Washington's war on terrorism has divided opinion - no more so than in the frontier tribal areas, which have a degree of autonomy from Islamabad and often strong blood ties to clans across the border.
There was certainly no sign of any Pakistani police or army presence in Lagharay on Sunday and a local provincial official told Reuters the authorities had no plans to arrest firebrand Islamic party head Sufi Mohammad, who is leading the fighters.
Nor did the authorities plan to get in their way.
"We will not stop them from crossing into Afghanistan because people have been moving both ways through these informal border crossings for centuries," said the official.
He said the armed group -- 10,000 to 12,000-strong according to its organisers and 3,500 in total according to authorities -- had sent a delegation into Afghanistan to meet the Taliban.
Sufi Mohammad himself had been taken to the Karakorum Highway leading into China, part of the fabled Silk Road, to persuade some of his supporters who have been blocking it for a number of days to give up their action.
Presumably, after clearing up the Silk Road blockade, he would be free to head on into Afghanistan.
GOD AND CUTLASSES
Back in Lagharay, cries of "Allah akbar" (God is great) and "Al jihad" (holy war) echoed through the square as a convoy of trucks and pick-ups prepared to ferry them across the border.
The gathering started just after dawn as a few men, armed with AK-47s in varying degrees of repair, trudged into town.
A trickle soon turned into a torrent, and by mid-morning there were at least 3,000 people.
One wizened old man, his belongings slung in a plastic bag over his shoulder, was armed only with a rusty cutlass. Others had muskets dating back to the 19th Century, duelling pistols and even an elephant gun.
But other, more fit-looking men bore a fearsome array of modern weapons including machineguns and grenade launchers.
It was clearly not a spontaneous gathering. Organisers drifted between groups checking equipment, shoes and supplies.
Huge piles of blankets and donated food were being loaded onto trucks. Thousands of flat loaves of unleavened bread were stacked up before being packed into plastic bags.
Vendors selling boots and socks made a quick profit selling to those who had arrived clad only in sandals.
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