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Taliban break silence, claim they were unaware of al-Qaeda leader’s presence in Afghanistan

Still image from video obtained on September 11, 2012, of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri speaking from an undisclosed location. (AFP/Site Intelligence Group)
Still image from video obtained on September 11, 2012, of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri speaking from an undisclosed location. (AFP/Site Intelligence Group)

The Taliban breaks its silence, days after a US drone strike killing al-Qaeda’s top leader in Afghanistan’s capital, acknowledging his slaying and pledging to launch an investigation.

The killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri on the balcony of a Kabul safe house Sunday has further strained relations between the Taliban and the West, particularly as it seeks an urgent infusion of cash to handle an economic catastrophe there following the US withdrawal from the country a year ago.

“The government and the leadership weren’t aware of what is being claimed, nor any trace there,” Suhail Shaheen, the head of the group’s political office in Doha, Qatar, tells The Associated Press in a text message.

That claim, however, directly conflicts with what US officials have said about the strike. They say al-Zawahiri was staying at the home of a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Haqqani is the deputy head of the Taliban, serves as interior minister in its government and heads the Haqqani network, a powerful faction within the movement.

The Taliban promised in the 2020 Doha Agreement with the US that they would not harbor al-Qaeda members or those seeking to attack the US.

An “investigation is underway now to find out about veracity of the claim. The leadership is in constant meeting in this regard. Findings will be shared with all,” Shaheen adds.

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