- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

JALAW GIR, Afghanistan — Gunmen stormed a camp of sleeping Chinese road workers in northern Afghanistan yesterday, killing at least 11 workers and an Afghan guard in the deadliest attack on foreign civilians since the fall of the Taliban regime.

The contractors were attacked about 1 a.m. at their desert camp near Jalaw Gir in Kunduz province, 120 miles north of the capital, Kabul.

Mutaleb Beg, the Kunduz police chief, said six to eight assailants killed an Afghan guard at the unfenced camp and then opened fire on the Chinese men, who were sleeping in two tents.

“They died in their beds, most of them with stomach and head wounds,” Chief Beg said by telephone after visiting the scene.

The Afghan Embassy in Beijing identified the 11 Chinese, saying nine died on the spot and two in the hospital. Four who were injured were in stable condition, the embassy said.

A spokesman for North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led peacekeepers who patrol the area said the toll could rise as reports come in from local clinics.

It was not clear who had carried out the attack.

A purported Taliban spokesman, Hamid Agha, said the ousted hard-line regime had not been involved. “It doesn’t have any link with the Taliban,” Mr. Agha said by telephone.

Chief Beg said no one was arrested, but raised suspicions about supporters of renegade Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who has teamed with the Taliban and vowed to oust the government of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai.

The killings are the latest in a string of deadly attacks on relief workers, private contractors and government employees. Officials say the attacks are an attempt to derail elections planned for September. Road workers have been a particularly enticing target for militants.

Several thousand foreigners work in Afghanistan, including United Nations staff, relief workers, private contractors and their security staff, embassy employees and consultants.

Many manage projects critical to the country’s reconstruction, from rebuilding roads and hospitals to modernizing government ministries. Most work in the capital, where they are less vulnerable, meaning that most of the victims of attacks on soft targets have been Afghan civilians.

Last week, three European medical relief workers and two Afghans were killed in an ambush in northwestern Badghis province claimed by the Taliban.

Badghis and Kunduz previously were viewed as relatively peaceful, and relief agencies fear that militants are expanding operations from the insurgency-plagued south and east.

The road contractors worked for the China Railway Shisiju Group, which last year won a World Bank contract to rebuild the highway from Doshi, in neighboring Baghlan province, to the Tajik border.

The $22.5 million project is part of an ambitious plan to restore Afghanistan’s infrastructure, shattered by more than two decades of fighting. Road workers also have been attacked in the south.

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