KUNDUZ, Afghanistan – Two men were arrested Friday over the slaughter of 11 Chinese road workers in northern Afghanistan, the deadliest attack on foreign civilians since the fall of the Taliban.
Three more suspects were being sought, Gen. Mohammed Daoud (search) told The Associated Press.
The contractors were slain early Thursday when assailants crept up to their tents in a desert camp 150 miles north of Kabul and shot them as they slept. The camp's sole armed guard was also killed.
The attack was the worst in a series against relief workers, private contractors and staff preparing for U.N.-sponsored elections, threatening already slow reconstruction efforts in this war-wrecked country as well as the planned September vote.
On Friday, two Afghan army helicopters brought the bodies from Kunduz to Kabul airport. Grim-faced Chinese Embassy staff helped medical workers carry the green plastic body bags to a line of ambulances, which took them to the morgue at the city's military hospital. Officials said they would be taken to China over the weekend.
A German military plane later brought five wounded to Kabul, where they were admitted to a hospital run by international peacekeepers. Chinese Ambassador Sun Yuxi (search) told AP they were all in good condition.
Daoud, the de facto ruler of Kunduz and several neighboring provinces, denounced "the enemies of Afghanistan" — a stock Afghan phrase encompassing Taliban and Al Qaeda rebels and followers of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (search).
But he also suggested thieves might have been responsible and it was "too early to blame anybody."
Daoud said a detachment of his soldiers were now guarding the camp of the China Railway Shisiju Group (search), which evacuated some 80 Chinese to Kunduz late Thursday. Many had arrived in the country only the day before.
The company last year won a $22.5 million World Bank contract to rebuild a highway from Doshi, in Baghlan province, to the Tajik border as part of plans to reopen trade routes and revive the Afghan economy.
Other reconstruction projects, such as the main highway from Kabul to Kandahar, have gone ahead only under tight security for fear of Taliban-led militants waging a stubborn insurgency across the south and east.
Sun said the road project could only resume after a thorough investigation showed what extra security was needed.
Asked why measures to protect the camp were so feeble, Sun said company executives would visit Kunduz this weekend "to work on that."
"Obviously, they were not strong," he said.
Sun said Chinese companies working on an irrigation project north of Kabul and renovating a hospital in the city had halted field trips and were erecting high walls around their compounds, but were continuing their work.
President Hamid Karzai, speaking to reporters during a trip to the United States, condemned the attack and urged the Chinese reconstruction teams to stay.
"I want them to continue to do their work," he said. "I want them to be brave and not lose heart and be with us, and I want them to stay and continue to rebuild Afghanistan."
Ordinary Afghans also feared that badly needed rebuilding work will dry up.
"They were just innocent workers," said Mohammed Naim, one of about 30 turbaned tribal elders who came to the airport in Kunduz to pay their respects. "We hope the Chinese government doesn't stop the work. Our roads are very bad."