Taliban say they don’t know al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan

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ISLAMABAD – The Taliban said on Thursday they were investigating what they described as “allegations” that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri was killed in a US 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 addressed Sunday’s drone strike that killed the al-Qaeda network leader on the balcony of a Kabul safe house that US officials say was linked to a leader. Taliban.

The killing of al-Zawahri has further strained relations between the Taliban and the West, especially as they seek an urgent infusion of cash to deal with an economic disaster following the US withdrawal from the country a year ago. a year.

The Taliban had promised in the 2020 Doha agreement with the United States that they would not harbor members of al-Qaeda or those seeking to attack the United States.

In Thursday’s statement, the Taliban appeared to address those concerns.

They said they had “ordered detection and intelligence agencies to carry out serious and thorough investigations into various aspects of the mentioned event”.

The statement also contained assurances to the West, saying that “there is no danger from the territory of Afghanistan to any country, including America.” He said the Taliban want the implementation of the Doha agreement.

The early Sunday strike rocked Shirpur, once an area of ​​historic buildings that were bulldozed in 2003 to make way for luxury homes for officials from the Western-backed Afghan government and international aid organisations. After the US withdrawal in August 2021, senior Taliban people moved into some of the abandoned houses there.

US officials said al-Zawahri was staying at the home of a senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Haqqani is the deputy leader of the Taliban, serves as interior minister in their government and leads the Haqqani Network, a powerful faction within the movement.

The Haqqani Network is an Afghan Islamic insurgent group, built around the family of the same name. In the 1980s it fought Soviet forces and for the past 20 years it has fought US-led NATO troops and the former Afghan government. The US government is maintaining a $10 million bounty on Sirajuddin Haqqani for attacks on US troops and Afghan civilians.

But the Haqqanis, who hail from Khost province in eastern Afghanistan, have rivals within the Taliban leadership, mainly from the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Some think Sirajuddin Haqqani wants more power. Other Taliban figures opposed Haqqani attacks on civilians in Kabul and elsewhere during the insurgency.

During the first half of 2022, al-Zawahri has increasingly reached out to his followers with video and audio messages, including assurances that al-Qaeda can rival the Islamic State group for leadership. a global movement, according to a report by the United Nations Analytical Support. and the Sanctions Monitoring Team.

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