Taliban comments US claim of killing Al Qaeda chief

The group says it’s unable to confirm the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri

The Taliban government in Afghanistan stated on Wednesday that it still has no information on the fate of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was allegedly killed in a US drone strike in Kabul over the weekend.

While the Taliban has not been able to confirm the terrorist leader’s death, Abdul Salam Hanafi, the second deputy Taliban prime minister, condemned Washington’s strike, arguing that it violated Afghanistan’s “sovereignty, international laws and the Doha agreement,” referring to a 2020 deal between the Taliban and Washington which required US-led foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, which now calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

“We still are not aware of these details. All that we know is that an aerial attack has taken place here and our Islamic Emirate strongly condemns it,” Hanafi told reporters in the Afghan capital in what is the Taliban’s first official comment on the alleged killing of al-Zawahiri.

Hanafi went on to reiterate his government’s commitment to not allowing anyone to use the territory of Afghanistan to carry out or plan attacks against neighboring or other countries. “The Islamic Emirate firmly stands by this policy,” he proclaimed.

The statement comes after US President Joe Biden announced on Monday that the CIA had carried out a successful drone strike in Kabul last week, eliminating 71-year-old Egyptian jihadist leader Zawahiri, who is believed to have been the right hand man of Osama bin Laden and one of the masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

US officials have in turn accused the Taliban of violating the Doha agreement, claiming that Zawahiri had been hosted in Kabul by senior members of the so-called Haqqani Network – a militant faction within the Taliban believed to have deep ties with Al Qaeda. 

“The Haqqani Taliban members acted quickly to remove Zawahiri’s wife, his daughter and her children to another location, consistent with a broader effort to cover up that they had been living in the safe house,” a US State Department official was quoted as saying by Voice of America.

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The EU’s special envoy for Afghanistan Tomas Niklasson also stated on Twitter on Wednesday that the killing of Zawahiri in central Kabul had “reinforced previous doubts” on the Taliban’s commitment to not allow the country to become a safe haven for terrorists.

The Taliban has refuted these accusations and insist it was not aware of what was being claimed by the West, according to Suhail Shaheen, head of the Taliban political office in Doha. 

“IEA is committed to Doha Agreement. 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 said told reporters on Wednesday.

The Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan following the US’s sudden withdrawal of its forces in 2019. The international community has largely declined to give legitimacy to the Taliban rule unless it eases restrictions on women’s rights and upholds its counterterrorism pledges.

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