Ayman Al-Zawahiri was killed in Kabul by a US drone hit on Tuesday, but many Afghans expressed amazement or skepticism at the news, saying they couldn’t believe he had been hiding among them.
“It’s just propaganda,” AFP was informed by Fahim Shah, 66, a resident of the Afghan capital.
US President Joe Biden announced Zawahiri’s murder late on Monday, saying “justice has been delivered” to the Egyptian with a $25 million bounty on his head.
The 71-year-old was on the balcony of a three-story home in the affluent Sherpur neighborhood when two Hellfire missiles were fired at him shortly after sunrise on Sunday, according to a senior US official.
“We have experienced such propaganda in the past and there was never anything in it,” Shah said.
“In reality, I don’t think he was killed here.”
The Taliban acknowledged that the US had used a drone hit earlier on Tuesday, but they provided no information regarding deaths or mentioned Zawahiri, who was seen as a crucial figure in the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
The interior ministry first refuted claims of a drone strike on Sunday, but Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid claimed Tuesday that this was due to an ongoing inquiry.
Abdul Kabir, a resident of Kabul, claimed to have heard the strike on Sunday morning but demanded that the US show who was killed.
“They should show to the people and to the world that ‘we had hit this man and here is the evidence’,” Kabir said.
“We think they killed somebody else and announced it was the Al-Qaeda chief… there are many other places he could be hiding — in Pakistan, or even in Iraq.”
The attack is certain to exacerbate already tense relations between Washington and the Taliban, who promised to halt Afghanistan from serving as a haven for terrorists as part of the deal that resulted in the withdrawal of US troops last year.
Another college student who believed Zawahiri had not resided in Kabul was Mohammad Bilal.
“This is a terrorist group and I do not think they will send their leader to Afghanistan,” Bilal said.
“Leaders of most terrorist groups, including the Taliban, were either living in Pakistan or in the United Arab Emirates when they were in conflict with former Afghan forces,” he said.
However, a straw poll revealed several believers in the city.
Freshta, a housewife from Kabul who wished to remain anonymous, expressed her shock after learning of Zawahiri’s death.
“It’s so uncomfortable to know that he was living here,” she said.
A shopkeeper who also asked not to be named said he too wasn’t surprised.
“Any terrorist group can enter our land, use it and get out easily,” he told AFP.
“We don’t have a good government. We are unable to protect ourselves, our soil and our property.”