Armed assailants attacked a man and gouged out his eyes in front of his family during a gruesome assault in southern Afghanistan, officials said Sunday.

Sayed Ghulam, 52, was recovering in a hospital in the country's largest southern city, Kandahar.

Ghulam said three armed men knocked on his door in the Sangin district of Helmand province late Thursday. When he opened the door, they punched him in the face, put the barrel of a Kalashnikov rifle in his mouth and gouged out his eyes with a knife in the presence of his wife and seven children.

"I was crying, along with my children and wife, who was screaming for help, but they didn't listen," Ghulam told The Associated Press from his hospital room in Kandahar.

Ghulam, a farmer who said he raises wheat and popcorn, said he doesn't know why he was attacked. "I don't have any enemies. But they were not letting me talk. They put the AK-47 in my mouth and they were punching me."

Daoud Ahmadi, spokesman for Helmand's governor, blamed Taliban fighters for the attack, saying the militants often kill innocent Afghans.

But Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi denied that Taliban fighters were involved.

"Whenever we carry out an attack we claim responsibility," Ahmadi said. "We didn't gouge out this man's eyes."

Ghulam, whose head is almost completely wrapped in a large white bandage, said his attackers were wearing black turbans on their head like many Taliban fighters, but said he didn't know who carried out the attack.

Taliban militants sometimes carry out harsh punishments for people they accuse of being thieves or "spies" for the Afghan government. Such punishments include having hands cut off or being tarred and paraded publicly, but there have been few recent reports of people having their eyes gouged out.