Afghanistan claimed Sunday it killed a top al-Qaeda propagandist on an FBI most-wanted list during an operation in the country's east.
The reported death of Husam Abd al-Rauf follows weeks of violence including an ISIS-claimed suicide bombing Saturday at an education center near Kabul that killed 24 people.
Meanwhile, the Afghan government continues to fight Taliban militants even as peace talks in Qatar between the two sides take place for the first time.
The violence and al-Rauf's reported killing threatens the face-to-face peace talks and risks plunging this nation beset by decades of war into further instability. It also complicates America's efforts to withdraw, 19 years after it led an invasion targeting the Taliban for hosting Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Details over the raid that led to al-Rauf's alleged death remained murky, hours after Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security intelligence service claimed on Twitter to have killed him in Ghazni province, The Associated Press reported.
The Afghan raid happened last week in Kunsaf, a village in Ghazni province's Andar district some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Kabul, two government officials said.
Amanullah Kamrani, the deputy head of Ghazni's provincial council, told the AP that Afghan special forces led by the intelligence agency raided Kunsaf, which he described as being under Taliban control. On the village's outskirts, they stormed an isolated home and killed seven suspected militants in a firefight, including al-Rauf, Kamrani said.
Neither Kamrani nor the intelligence agency offered details on how authorities identified al-Rauf, nor how they came to suspect he was in the village.
Wahidullah Jumazada, a spokesman for the provincial governor in Ghazni, said Afghan forces killed six suspected militants in the raid, without acknowledging al-Rauf had been killed.
Kamrani alleged, without providing evidence, that the Taliban had been offering shelter and protection to al-Rauf. The Taliban told the AP on Sunday they are investigating the incident, without elaborating.
If the Taliban had provided protection for al-Rauf, that would violate the terms of its Feb. 29 deal with the US that jump-started the Afghan peace talks. That deal saw the Taliban agree “not to cooperate with groups or individuals threatening the security of the US and its allies,” which includes al-Qaeda.
Federal prosecutors in the southern district of New York filed a warrant for al-Rauf's arrest in December 2018, accusing him of providing support to a foreign terrorist organization and being part of a conspiracy to kill US citizens. The FBI put him on the bureau's “Most Wanted Terrorists” list, which now includes 27 others.