(MEE) The US military has admitted that jets from its coalition launched a devastating air attack that led to the deaths of at least 42 people in a mosque in Syria’s Aleppo province.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said missiles hit the mosque in the rebel-held village of al-Jina, south-west of Atarib in the western Aleppo countryside, on Thursday.
It said the bombs fells when the mosque was full of worshippers at evening prayers, between 7 pm and 7.30pm local time, and that Russia or Syria was originally suspected.
Video footage showed White Helmets rescue workers picking through rubble from the part-demolished mosque.
— Christiaan Triebert (@trbrtc) March 17, 2017
The US initially said the strike targeted al-Qaeda fighters in nearby Idlib province, “a significant safe haven for al-Qaeda in recent years”.
However, following inquiries by Airwars and media groups, a spokesman for the US military said its attack had hit al-Jina in Aleppo.
Major Josh Jacques told Airwars that its target in al-Jina was “assessed to be a meeting place for al-Qaeda, and we took the strike – it happened to be across the street from where there is a mosque”.
He said the mosque was not the target, and that it was not hit directly.
Video footage taken by reporter and MEE contributor Bilal Abdul Kareem showed that the northern side of the mosque was targeted by the latest round of US airstrikes.
Inherent Resolve, the US-led operation in Syria, did not respond to Middle East Eye’s requests for confirmation before publication.
However John Thomas, a colonel at US Centcom command in the Middle East, told the AFP news agency: “We did not target a mosque, but the building that we did target – which was where the meeting took place – is about 50 feet from a mosque.”
He said the mosque was “still standing”.
“We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike,” Thomas added, when asked about the reports. “We take that very seriously.”
Turkish deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus on Friday condemned the attack as a “war crime” and a “crime against humanity”.
“Bombing civilians, people in the mosque and a house of worship is unacceptable,” he told reporters in the northwestern province of Canakkale.
Fragments of weapons were found around the attack area, showing English lettering which the investigative group Bellingcat identified as corresponding with script found on missiles used by US forces.
The above left photograph was given to Dutch journalist Sakir Khader by activists in Syria. The location and authenticity of the photo could not be independently verified.
Bellingcat used video footage and satellite imagery to confirm the location of the mosque.
Perhaps the small building north [green] of the partly collapsed mosque is also a mosque? The one CENTCOM is referring to? pic.twitter.com/ouzshzLutW
— Christiaan Triebert (@trbrtc) March 17, 2017
The US has been at the center of several recent reports of the use of overwhelming force against militants in Syria and Iraq.
Earlier this month, Airwars estimated that hundreds of civilians had been killed in western Mosul during the campaign against IS in Iraq.
Civilians in western Mosul told Middle East Eye that dozens of missiles had fallen in civilian areas to target sometimes solitary Islamic State fighters, leading to “countless deaths”.
In December, the US coalition admitted it had killed dozens of civilians in July air attacks in Syria’s Manbij, where its local allies were fighting the Islamic State.
The deadliest strike occurred on July 18th, when an aircraft attacked a group of IS fighters, killing about 100 of them.
But “up to 24 civilians who had been interspersed with combatants were inadvertently killed in a known IS staging area where no civilians had been seen in the 24 hours prior to the attack,” the coalition said.
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