US kills top Al Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri in drone strike

New York: The US killed top Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike in Afghanistan over the weekend dealing the terrorist group a major blow, confirms President Joe Biden.

Al-Zawahiri had overseen the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001 that killed 2,977 people, along with Osama bin Laden, who was killed by the US in 2011 in Pakistan.

Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian by birth who had trained to be a medical doctor, had a US reward of $25 million for information leading to his capture. The US holds him responsible also for the bombing of its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and on its naval ship USS Cole in 2000.

He also had a long history of baiting and threatening India. Last April, he praised an Indian student who stood up against efforts to prevent Muslim women from wearing hijab. The next month, in May, he called the abrogation of Article 370 a “slam” for Muslims.

Al-Zawahiri was killed by two Hellfire missiles fired at him from a CIA-run drone while he was on the balcony of a house in Kabul where he had been staying with his family. No members of his family or other civilians were wounded or killed in the strike, according to US officials who briefed reporters.

The strike came around a year after the US left Afghanistan, which raised questions about its ability to carry out counter-terrorism operations there. The Biden administration had sought to allay such concerns and fears saying it will retain “over-the-horizon” capability from neighboring countries.

Al-Zawahiri’s most spectacular operations were against the US, but he had India in his crosshairs as well. In April, he came out in support of Muskan Khan, an Indian Muslim student who stood up to those trying to prevent Muslim women from wearing hijab in educational institutions.

A month later in May, he opposed the Modi government’s decision to abrogate Article 370, which ascribed special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The secret weapon that killed Zawahiri

The killing of al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri by the United States points to the use of a secret Hellfire R9X missile to avoid collateral damage. As per the AFP report, al-Zawahiri was killed by two missiles fired at his Kabul home — but pictures showed no sign of an explosion, and US officials say no one else was harmed.

This shows that the US used the macabre Hellfire R9X, a warhead-less missile believed to be equipped with six razor-like blades, to kill him. These missiles do not explode but release knife-like blades hitting the targets with precision to avoid collateral damage to civilians.

The Hellfire R9X, also called the flying Ginsu, causes no damage to the area as there is no explosive payload that it carries. It has become the US munition of choice for killing leaders of extremist groups while avoiding civilian casualties.

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