Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was eliminated from his balcony in the Afghan capital Kabul last weekend with a missile fired from a drone. Surprisingly, the other people in the house – his wife, his daughter and her children – were unharmed. How that is possible: the rocket was not equipped with an explosive charge, but with razor-sharp blades.

The US intelligence agency CIA that carried out the attack would not officially confirm it, but US media know for sure: the operation was carried out with a Hellfire R9X. That missile is also known as a ‘ninja bomb’. It doesn’t explode, but just before hitting its target, six razor-sharp blades shoot out of the rocket.

The British broadcaster BBC also comes to that conclusion , partly because no explosion was heard and no damage was caused to the building that you normally see with an explosion.

For example, the 71-year-old Egyptian terror leader, standing on his balcony after morning prayers, was knocked out, while his family escaped unharmed a few meters away.

Here’s an illustration of the ‘ninja bomb’.

The weapon can be fired from a drone, but also from the ground, from a helicopter or from a boat. After firing, someone can remotely control the missile. On the head is a camera, which enables the ‘operator’ to watch. That same person can point out the target with a laser; the missile then launches at that designated target.

The Hellfire is a precision weapon designed to prevent innocent casualties. America has been criticized in the past two decades for attacks that killed bystanders by bombs dropped by drones.

The operation was probably planned down to the last detail for months. The CIA must have known exactly what time the terrorist leader was on his balcony.

Jihadi John
It is not the first time that America has used this weapon to take out enemies. In 2017, al-Zawahiri’s aide Abu Khayr al-Masri is believed to have been killed by a Hellfire in Syria. Photos of that attack showed that the bombs had cut through the car and the victims and that there had been no explosion.

Similarly, Iranian general Qassem Soleimani (in Baghdad in 2020) and British IS fighter ‘Jihadi John’ (in Syria in 2015) are also likely to have been killed.