ISLAMABAD (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Top Taliban officials didn’t know al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was hiding in Afghanistan, a spokesman said, and an investigation is underway to check the veracity of US claims he was killed in an American airstrike in capital Kabul over the weekend.
“The government and the leadership wasn’t aware of what is being claimed,” Suhail Shaheen, the head of the group’s political office in Doha, Qatar, said over WhatsApp messages.
There was “no trace” of his presence, Shaheen added.
The Taliban government is investigating the matter, he added, and will share its findings.
The United States killed Zawahiri with a missile fired from a drone while he stood on a balcony at his Kabul hideout on Sunday, US officials said.
It was the biggest blow to the militants since Osama bin Laden was shot dead more than a decade ago.
Taliban leaders have remained largely tight-lipped about the Sunday drone strike and have not confirmed the presence or death of Zawahiri in Kabul.
Top Taliban leaders have been holding lengthy discussions about how to respond to the US drone strike, three sources in the group said.
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.
Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor, was closely involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and was one of the world's most wanted men.
His death in Kabul raises questions about whether he received sanctuary from the Taliban, who had assured the United States as part of a 2020 agreement on the withdrawal of US-led forces that they would not harbour other militant groups.
Shaheen said the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan - the name the Taliban use for the country and their government - is committed to the agreement, signed in the Qatari capital, Doha.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban has "grossly violated" the agreement by hosting and sheltering Zawahiri.