Taliban claim they didn’t know al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was in Afghanistan

The Taliban have broken their silence on a U.S. drone strike that killed the top al-Qaeda leader in the Afghan capital, admitting his death and pledging an investigation.

The killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri on the balcony of a Kabul safe house on Sunday further escalated ties between the Taliban and the West, especially after the U.S. withdrawal of troops a year ago and the Taliban are seeking an emergency infusion of cash to deal with the economic disaster there .

“The government and leadership do not know what is being claimed and there is no trace,” Suhail Shaheen, head of the group’s political office in Doha, Qatar, told The Associated Press.

Image: Ayman al-Zawahiri
Al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, then appeared in a September 2006 videotape.AP document

In a separate statement, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also insisted that the group was not aware that al-Zawahiri was living in a house in Kabul.

“We don’t have any information about his arrival and staying in the house,” Mujahid said.

He added that the incident would be thoroughly investigated and that “Afghan soil does not pose a threat to the United States and other countries”.

Those claims are in direct conflict with what U.S. officials have said about the strike. Zawahiri was staying at the home of a senior aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajddin Haqqani, they said.

Haqqani is the deputy leader of the Taliban, serves as the government’s interior minister and leads the Haqqani network, a powerful faction of the movement.

Taliban pledge in 2020 Doha deal with US they will not harbor al Qaeda members or those trying to attack US

“There is an ongoing investigation to find out the veracity of the claim. Leadership is constantly meeting on this. The findings will be shared with everyone,” Shaheen added.

The strikes earlier on Sunday shook Hilpur, a once historic district that was levelled in 2003 to make way for mansions of officials from Afghanistan’s Western-backed government and international aid groups.

After the U.S. withdrawal of troops last August, Taliban executives moved into some of the abandoned houses there.

The Haqqani Network is an Afghan Islamic insurgency group built around the family of the same name.

In the 1980s it fought against Soviet troops, and for the past 20 years it has fought US-led NATO forces and the former Afghan government.

The U.S. government maintains a $10 million reward for Sirajuddin Haqqani for attacks on U.S. troops and Afghan civilians.

But the Haqqanis from Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province have rivals within the Taliban leadership, mainly from the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.

Some believe Haqqani wants more power. Other Taliban figures have opposed Haqqani’s attacks on civilians in Kabul and elsewhere during the insurgency.

In the first half of 2022, al-Zawahiri increasingly reached out to supporters via video and audio messages, including assurances that al-Qaeda could compete with the so-called Islamic State group to lead the global movement, the UN analysis said. Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team said.

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