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Taliban Say They Were Unaware of Al Qaeda Leaders’ Presence in Their Country

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

The Taliban said Thursday they are investigating what they described as “claims” that al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri was killed in a U.S. drone strike in the Afghan capital.

However, the group insisted in a statement that it “has no knowledge of the arrival and residence” of al-Zawahri in Afghanistan.

The statement marked the first time the Taliban leadership addressed the U.S. announcement that al-Zawahri was the target of Sunday’s strike. However, despite the Taliban denial of knowledge of al-Zawahri’s presence, U.S. officials have said the al-Qaida head was staying at a Kabul safe house linked to the deputy leader of the Taliban. The strike killed al-Zawahri when he stepped out onto the safe house’s balcony.

His presence in Kabul and the killing have further strained relations between the Taliban and the West, particularly as Afghanistan’s rulers seek an urgent infusion of cash to handle the catastrophic collapse of the economy that came after the U.S. withdrawal a year ago.

The Taliban had promised in the Doha Agreement not to harbor al-Qaida members or those seeking to attack the U.S. In the accord, the U.S. committed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan and not to attack the Taliban.

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