KABUL The Afghan Taliban said on Tuesday they had not seen sufficient evidence yet to convince them that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is dead, their first comment since U.S. officials said the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks was killed in Pakistan.
"As the Americans did not provide any acceptable evidence to back up their claim, and as the other aides close to Osama bin Laden have not confirmed or denied the death ... therefore the Islamic Emirate consider any assertion premature," said a statement emailed to media by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
The statement said the Islamist group, which harbored bin Laden in southern Afghanistan before and immediately after the September 11 attacks, would not offer any comment until they had seen evidence from bin Laden's aides.
President Barack Obama announced the killing of bin Laden, who was found in a compound in the military garrison town of Abottabad about 60 km (35 miles) north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
Bin Laden's body was flown out of Pakistan after the raid by a small U.S. strike team, taken to an aircraft carrier and buried somewhere in the north Arabian sea on Monday, U.S. officials have said.
Washington has so far not released any photographs of bin Laden's body or the burial, raising doubts in some Islamist forums about whether he was killed.
A U.S. official told Reuters in Washington on Tuesday that the United States might release photos of the burial at sea.
Other Islamist groups were quick to denounce the killing of bin Laden, with many vowing to carry out attacks against Westerners to avenge his death.
But the Taliban had remained quiet until Tuesday, despite a relatively sophisticated media network they had developed over the past few years.
The once-media shy Taliban, who banned television and music when they ruled Afghanistan during the late 1990s, are usually quick to publicize their attacks, opinions or exploits.
Their long silence was seen by some analysts as another deliberate attempt by the Taliban to distance themselves from al Qaeda as they try to convince the international community their ambitions are only focused on Afghanistan.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Paul Tait and Sanjeev Miglani)