Hellfire Missiles, The 'Secret Weapon' Used By US To Eliminate Ayman Al-Zawahiri | Explained

Ayman Al-Zawahiri Killed: The Al-Qaeda chief, 71, was on the balcony of his safe house when US intelligence intercepted him and launched two missiles that killed him.

By Aalok Sensharma
Tue, 02 Aug 2022 10:35 AM IST
Minute Read
Hellfire Missiles, The 'Secret Weapon' Used By US To Eliminate Ayman Al-Zawahiri | Explained
A US official checks a drone before its launch/ Reuters image used for representative purpose

Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became Al-Qaeda's chief following Osama bin Laden's killing by the United States (US) in Pakistan, was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan's capital Kabul on Sunday. The strike was carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said President Joe Biden, declaring that "justice has been delivered and this terrorist is no more".

"I authorised a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield, once and for all," Biden said in an address from the White House. "He was deeply involved in the planning of 9/11, one of the most responsible for the attacks that murdered 2,977 people on American soil. For decades, he was the mastermind of attacks against Americans."

Zawahiri, 71, was on the balcony of his safe house when US intelligence intercepted him and launched two missiles that killed him. "Our intelligence community located Zawahiri earlier this year - he moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with members of his immediate family," Biden said.

According to officials, Zawahiri's family members were present at the house, but the strike didn't harm them. They said the US used two Hellfire R9X missiles, which carry 45kg of reinforced metal in its tip with six extendable blades, to kill the Qaeda chief.

Dubbed as the 'ninja' missile, the hellfire missiles have become a potent weapon of the US to carry out precision assassinations due to their lower risk of collateral damage.

However, the hellfire missiles, also are only used in a handful of attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2017. It is not even clear how many hellfire missiles the US has.

As per the details leaked about it, the hellfire missile weighs over 100 pounds, is more than five feet long, and is popularly known as 'flying Ginsu' among US officials. Officials, quoted by The Wall Street Journal, had earlier said that these missiles were created with the "express purpose of reducing civilian casualties".

"The weapon was under development as early as 2011. A missile with similar capabilities was considered as a 'Plan B' to kill al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that year," The Wall Street Journal reported.

"The weapon minimizes the risk of civilian casualties, there are more opportunities to take a shot, reducing the number of hours the military has to keep surveillance and armed aircraft aloft," the report said.

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