The Taliban said on Thursday that they had no knowledge of Ayman Al Zawahiri's presence in Afghanistan, days after US President Joe Biden announced the Al Qaeda chief's killing via drone strike in Kabul.
Sunday's drone attack was the first known over-the-horizon strike by the US on a target in Afghanistan since American troops withdrew from the country on August 31 last year, days after the Taliban swept back into power.
The house hit in the strike was in Sherpur, one of Kabul's most affluent neighbourhoods and where several high-ranking Taliban officials and commanders live.
News of the strike prompted speculation that the extremist group knew Al Zawahiri was living there. The former US special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told NPR he “would not be surprised that some elements of the Taliban may have helped us, that tipped us off in terms of the location”.
Taliban leaders have remained largely tight-lipped about the attack and have yet to confirm either the presence or the death of Al Zawahiri in Kabul.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has no information about Ayman Al Zawahiri's arrival and stay in Kabul,” the group said in an official statement.
Suhail Shaheen, the designated Taliban representative to the UN, echoed the statement.
“The government and the leadership wasn’t aware of what is being claimed, nor any trace there,” he said.
“Investigation is under way now to find out about the veracity of the claim,” he said and added that the results of the investigation would be shared publicly.
Referring to the drone strike, the Taliban said “if such incidents are repeated again and if the territory of Afghanistan is violated, then responsibility for any consequences will be on the United States”.
Al Zawahiri's assassination is the biggest blow to Al Qaeda since US special forces killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. It also calls into question the Taliban's promise not to harbour militant groups.
The Al Qaeda leader was believed to be in charge of steering the group's operations, including the 9/11 attacks, as well as serving as bin Laden's personal doctor.
A senior US official said the 71-year-old Egyptian was on the balcony of a three-storey house in the Afghan capital when the building was hit by two Hellfire missiles early on Sunday.
In announcing Al Zawahiri's death on Tuesday, Mr Biden declared “justice had been delivered” to the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks.