RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Afghan men thronged their closing embassy in the Saudi capital by the defiant hundreds Wednesday, adamant they would return home to fight a feared U.S. attack.
"I am going back to defend my country, and may God help me," 33-year-old Nur Khan said, eagerly reclaiming his passport from embassy workers.
Afghan Embassy staff worked through piles of royal-blue Afghanistan passports, hurrying to complete paperwork for as many of the men as possible before they themselves are forced to leave Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia on Tuesday ordered the Afghan Embassy in Riyadh closed within 48 hours. Saudi Arabia said it was cutting all ties with Afghanistan's Taliban government in light of its refusal to surrender "terrorists and criminals."
Saudi Arabia's move leaves Pakistan the only country still in diplomatic contact with the Taliban in their showdown over the United States' demand that they surrender Osama bin Laden.
The United States blames the Saudi dissident, living in exile in Afghanistan, for the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Washington. The Taliban have refused to turn him over unless Washington supplies evidence of his guilt.
About 200,000 Afghans live in the Saudi kingdom, most of them labourers filling jobs in construction and other heavy industries. Tuesday's order to the Afghan Embassy does not affect their status.
Afghan men, most heavily bearded and wearing traditional Afghan robes, crowded round the embassy as soon as it opened Wednesday.
After years in Saudi Arabia, many needed to renew their passports to return home. Others went to the embassy to seek counsel from the diplomats on their next move.
Workers from the seven-member embassy staff exhorted the crowd — telling the men the choice was theirs, but their country needed them.
"It is our duty to defend our country and our people," said Molawi Muttiallah, embassy charge d'affaires. "And God willing, I too am going back for that same purpose."
Diplomats inside the yellow villa where the embassy is housed scrambled to complete work and pack up for a Thursday departure.
Matiullah said he hoped the standoff over bin Laden would end peacefully.
Outside, the waiting men said they were ready for war. Fierceness and defiance fuelled in Afghanistan's Soviet occupation of the 1980s, and nurtured in generations of conflict before and after, spilled out in martial words.
"We were born in war and we will die in one," declared Dawood Nazer. "We are ready for jihad (holy war.)"
"We don't fear America or war," added Nazer, the father of four. "We fear only God."
Many of the men said they had contacted families back in Afghanistan to tell them they were returning to fight.
"I would love to die as a martyr and I have already informed my family of my intentions," said Akhtar Mohammed, 18, of Kabul.
"They were very proud of me," he added.
"Let America come," said Deedar Khan, 37. "We will be ready for them. We are born warriors, and we will die as martyrs."