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Thirty-six die and 20 are hurt in the attack, claimed by the Taliban, on a construction crew.

Los Angeles Times

KABUL, Afghanistan - Insurgents massacred 36 workers at a road construction encampment in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, provincial and company officials said, marking one of the most lethal assaults of its kind in recent years.

The Taliban and other insurgents sometimes target work crews on infrastructure projects, regarding the building companies as collaborators with the central government and foreign forces. But most such projects have substantial security contingents, and it is unusual for militants to be able to kill so many in a single strike.

The construction company's owner, Noorullah Bidar, one of 20 people injured in the attack, said from his hospital bed that all those slain in the predawn attack in Paktia province were Afghans.

Rohullah Samon, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said the dead included laborers, technical personnel and security guards. Eight assailants died in the attack as well, he said.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack as the work of "terrorists ... enemies of the development of our country." A government investigation team was dispatched to the site, officials said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and cited details that appeared to corroborate the claim. Other insurgent groups are active in the area as well, including the Haqqani network, a particularly violent Taliban offshoot based in nearby Pakistan.

Elsewhere, anti-Western protests flared for a second day in the northern city of Taloqan, but the gathering Thursday was smaller and less violent than the one a day earlier, when a peaceful demonstration escalated into clashes that left a dozen people dead. Three people were hurt in Thursday's demonstration.

The protests broke out Wednesday, hours after a U.S.-led nighttime raid on a compound on the city's outskirts left two men and two women dead. Western military officials said they were insurgents; townspeople said they were civilians. Karzai, a longtime opponent of night raids, criticized the NATO strike.

In the last year, the Western military has become increasingly reliant on targeted strikes aimed at insurgent figures. Use of such special operations raids is likely to figure prominently in U.S. strategy as a drawdown of conventional forces begins in July.

Afghan officials and human rights groups have long denounced such strikes, charging that the intelligence involved is often faulty and that raids on residential compounds, especially in darkness, carry too high a risk of killing and wounding innocent people.

The Taliban movement was quick to capitalize on public anger over the raid and the deaths of protesters.

A statement by the group's leadership called the killings a "crime against humanity" perpetrated by "foreign and hireling security forces."

The Taliban also issued a statement denying that direct contacts meant to lead to peace talks have been taking place between Taliban and U.S. representatives.