Highlights

  • US forces killed al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri on 31 July 2022
  • al-Zawahiri possibly killed by Hellfire R9X missiles which slice victims
  • Reports said al-Zawahiri's house was intact, no sign of explosions

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Doom Tech | 'Ninja' missile with blades, no blast: USA's secret weapon killed al-Qaeda chief al-Zawahiri?

American forces are believed to have used the Hellfire R9X blade-fitted missiles to kill al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri at his Kabul house.

An American military operation to kill al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has once again pointed to the use of a weapon whose existence has never been officially confirmed. Here is why the unusual after-effects of the attack on al-Zawahiri have prompted fresh speculation about a so-called 'ninja bomb'.

In the operation on 31 July 2022, the al-Qaeda chief was targeted when he was standing on the balcony of his house in Afghanistan's capital Kabul. A US drone is believed to have launched 2 Hellfire missiles at al-Zawahiri, killing him.

Windows were reportedly blown out on one floor of the house, but the rest of the structure remained intact. No sign of an explosion was reported from the safehouse. The American government said that al-Zawahiri's family was inside the house, but did not suffer any harm. Nor were any other civilians injured in the operation.

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But how is this possible? How could a missile cause no damage, except kill its target - one person?

The well-known AGM-114 Hellfire missiles are famous for their destructive firepower. They began as anti-tank weapons in the 1980s, but after the 9/11 attacks, Hellfires started being used as drone weapons to kill individuals.

But to kill al-Zawahiri, USA is believed to have used a special variant of the Hellfire - the R9X. The R9X does not contain explosives, but instead houses sharp blades. The R9X is designed to slice and shred its targets.

There are 6 razor-sharp blades fitted inside the missile fuselage. They pop out seconds before the missile makes impact. These sharp blades shred anything in the missile's path. Because of this, the R9X is informally called the 'Flying Ginsu' - a reference to knives sold in the 1970s and 1980s - and also 'Ninja Bomb'.

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One of the hardest parts of using the R9X effectively is acquiring exact information about the target's location and the situation around them. But since chances of civilian casualties are reduced, it also provides more opportunities to attack.

The R9X reportedly had another predecessor without explosives. That missile had been designed to hit the target with over 100 pounds of weight thus killing without a blast. It could punch through cars and roofs.

The R9X 'Ninja Bomb' is believed to have felled many high-profile enemies of America. The R9X's first use is believed to have been against al-Qaeda commander Abu al-Khayr al-Masri who was killed in Syria's Idlib in March 2017. al-Masri targeted when he was travelling in a car. Like al-Zawahiri, no explosion occurred, but the car ended up with a huge hole in the roof, as per reports. All of the car's passengers had been shredded to death, but the front and rear of al-Masri's vehicle had remained intact.

The second probable use of the R9X took place against another al-Qaeda terrorist Jamal al-Badawi who was killed near Yemen's Sanaa in January 2019. An airstrike hit al-Badawi when he was alone in a vehicle. He was killed for his role in the bombing of American warship USS Cole. The attack in the year 2000 had killed 17 soldiers at a Yemeni port.

Another instance of the R9X's use is believed to have been a deadly attack on a top Iranian military commander. General Qassem Soleimani, who was head of Iran's elite Quds Force, was killed at the Baghdad airport in January 2020. A drone strike at his convoy had also killed leaders of Iran-backed militias in the region.

Reports say that the R9X 'Ninja Bomb' had been part of Plan B to kill 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. But the final operation was carried out on the ground by US Special Forces.

So what motivated America to develop a sword missile?

The Hellfire's R9X variant was reportedly designed during Barack Obama's tenure as US President. The objective behind the project was to avoid civilian deaths and reduce collateral damage in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen etc.

The need for such a weapon was also felt as terrorists were beginning to escape airstrikes by hiding among women and children. The R9X missile also solved the "right seat, left seat" problem, according to officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal. This means that the missile can theoretically kill the passenger in a car without hurting the driver - an allusion to collateral damage.

al-Zawahiri has now joined a long list of enemies killed by America. But why did the US want to get rid of him?

al-Zawahiri played a big role in the 9/11 terror attacks, and was also blamed for the 1998 bombings at US embassies in Tanzania, and Kenya. US President Joe Biden called al-Zawahiri's death a moment of justice for almost 3,000 terror victims and their families.

al-Zawahiri became the leader of al-Qaeda after bin Laden's death. The US had placed a $25 million bounty on al-Zawahiri's head. He was born in 1951 in a prominent Egyptian family, and had been an eye surgeon when he was young.

This operation by the US military has shown that it may have pulled troops out of Afghanistan, but intends to put pressure on the Taliban to stop sheltering mass murderers.

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