Taliban say they were unaware al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahri was in Afghanistan before US drone attack

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The Taliban said on Thursday they were unaware that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri was staying in Kabul four days after his arrest. killed by US drone strike in the Afghan capital.

In a bid to reverse terse comments released by the Taliban on Tuesday after President Biden announced the drone strike On Sunday, the Taliban said it had ordered “investigative and intelligence agencies to carry out serious and thorough investigations into various aspects of the mentioned event”.

The Taliban, who overthrew Afghanistan nearly a year ago, initially condemned the strike and said it was a “clear violation of… the Doha agreement”.

Afghan Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen speaks during a joint press conference in Moscow, Russia.

Afghan Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen speaks during a joint press conference in Moscow, Russia.
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

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However, as part of the 2020 Doha agreement signed by the United States and the insurgent group, the Taliban pledged not to provide safe haven to members of al-Qaeda or anyone seeking to attack United States.

Al-Zawahri was discovered to be residing in a Kabul safe house that had links to the Taliban deputy leader.

According to US officials, the al-Qaeda leader had stayed for months at the home of an aide to Sirajuddin Haqqani, senior deputy to Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatallah Akhundzada.

Al-Zawahri was killed by a US drone strike after stepping onto a balcony.

Recently slain al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahri speaks on the 11th anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death.

Recently slain al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al Zawahri speaks on the 11th anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death.
(AP Photo/Mazhar Ali Khan, File)

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The Taliban said in a statement on Thursday that they “had no knowledge of the arrival and residence” of al-Zawahri in Afghanistan.

The statement was released after Taliban leaders reportedly held a high-level meeting on Wednesday, though details of the meeting remain unclear.

Al-Zawahri’s presence in Kabul and the ensuing assassination of the al-Qaeda leader have further strained relations between Washington and Kabul as Taliban leaders are trying to get international funding to help Afghanistan’s crippling economy.

Osama bin Laden, left, and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

Osama bin Laden, left, and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
(Hamid Mir/Editor/Ausaf Newspaper for Daily Dawn/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo)

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The United States and the Taliban also reportedly engaged in recent talks over Afghan assets worth $3.5 billion that the United States froze after Ashraf Ghani’s presidency collapsed in August 2021.

The Taliban also tried to reassure Washington in their statement on Thursday, saying “there is no danger from the territory of Afghanistan to any country, including America.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.