Top leaders of Taliban in Afghanistan on Wednesday reportedly held discussions about how to respond to a US drone strike in Kabul where the United States claimed to have killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, Reuters reported quoting three sources in the group.
On Sunday, the United States killed Zawahiri with a missile fired from a drone while he stood on a balcony at his Kabul hideout, US officials said. This comes as the biggest blow to the terrorists since Osama bin Laden was shot dead more than a decade ago.
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The Taliban have not confirmed Zawahiri’s death.
Officials of the Islamist group, long-time allies of al Qaeda, initially confirmed the Sunday drone strike but said the house that was hit was empty.
Speaking to Reuters, a Taliban leader who holds an important position in Kabul said, “There are meetings at a very high level on whether they should react to the drone strike, and in case they decide to, then what is the proper way.”
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Reuters reported that the official, who said there had been lengthy leadership discussions for two days, declined to be identified. He did not confirm that Zawahiri was in the house that the missile struck.
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.
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Ayman al-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.
Zawahiri’s death has raised questions about whether he received sanctuary from the Taliban, who had assured the US as part of a 2020 agreement on the withdrawal of US-led forces that they would not harbour other terrorist groups.
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban had “grossly violated” the agreement by hosting and sheltering Zawahiri.
Outside a tight circle of top Taliban leaders, group members appeared in the dark about whether Zawahiri was actually in Kabul, let alone his fate.
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Another Taliban official confirmed the high-level meetings but said he did not know what was being discussed and he did not believe Zawahiri was in the house, Reuters reported.