The Taliban says it is investigating a “claim” by the United States that it killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone attack in Kabul, says a Taliban official, indicating the group’s leadership was not aware of his presence there.
The US said it killed al-Zawahiri with a missile fired from a drone while he stood on a balcony at his Kabul hiding place on Sunday.
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US officials said the killing was the biggest blow to the armed group since its founder, Osama bin Laden was shot dead more than 10 years ago.
“The government and the leadership wasn’t aware of what is being claimed, nor any trace there,” Suhail Shaheen, the designated Taliban representative to the United Nations, who is based in Doha, told journalists in a message.
“Investigation is under way now to find out about the veracity of the claim,” he said, adding that the results of the investigation would be shared publicly.
Top Taliban leaders have been holding lengthy discussions about how to respond to the US drone attack, three sources in the group told the Reuters news agency.
How the Taliban react could have significant repercussions as the group seeks international legitimacy and access to billions of dollars in frozen funds, following their defeat of a US-backed government a year ago.
Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor, was wanted for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the US.
His death in Kabul raises questions about whether he received sanctuary from the Taliban, who had assured the US as part of a 2020 agreement on the withdrawal of US-led forces that they would not harbour other armed groups.
Shaheen said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan – the name the Taliban use for the country and their government – was committed to the agreement, signed in the Qatari capital, Doha.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had “grossly violated” the agreement by hosting and sheltering al-Zawahiri.