Praying Civilians Killed in Peaceful Mosque Targeted by U.S Strikes, Report Concludes

Praying Civilians Killed in Peaceful Mosque Targeted by U.S Strikes, Report Concludes

Investigation concludes U.S. responsibility over bombed mosque

A new report has concluded that the United States is responsible for the lives of dozens of civilians after bombing a peaceful mosque in Syria and further targeting civilians fleeing the destroyed building. The bombing, which took place on March 16 on a mosque full of worshipers in the rebel-held village of al-Jina (western Aleppo), left dozens of civilians dead and scores injured. Since last month, the U.S. was accused of the lethal drone strike by Syrian activists, yet the Pentagon denied the accusations as explained by The Intercept. In fact, a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Captain Jeff Davis, and the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) declared:

“The area was extensively surveilled prior to the strike in order to minimize civilian casualties. We deliberately did not target the mosque… Military officials believe dozens of al-Qaida terrorist leaders were killed in the strike.”

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The newly built Omar Ibn al-Khatab mosque was destroyed by two armed Reaper drones firing Hellfire missiles; inside were around 300 civilians gathered for the night prayer. And according to a report by Human Rights Watch released this week (one of the three parallel investigations conducted to trace responsibility over the causes of the bombing) it was concluded as the result of the lack of necessary precautions taken by the U.S.  The report includes the testimony of 14 witnesses, as well as videos and photographs that provide evidence that the bombed building was, indeed, a mosque. In addition, the London-based Forensic Architecture provided a detailed video on the strike that confirms the deadly mistake committed by U.S. forces. As explained on the website:

“The architectural reconstruction has also allowed us to understand the sequence of events that took place in and around the mosque following the strike….The strike began when two bombs completely demolished the northern part of the building. The layout of the rubble in the deep craters is consistent with ground penetrating bombs. In order to escape, worshipers in the main prayer hall in the south part of the building had to climb over the rubble that partially blocked the doorways and passageways and destroyed the stairs. While people exited the building and immediately afterwards they were targeted by further missile strikes.”

This is just another of a series of mistakes the U.S.-lead coalition has made during the Syrian and Iraqi intervention. Just a few days ago a U.S coalition strike killed 18 allies mistaken by ISIS fighters. According to Pentagon’s data, between 102 and 396 civilians have been killed by the coalition from August 2014 to the end of February this year, although actual numbers could be higher. The problem is that these incidents reflect poor intel and above all, poor comprehension of the environment and society, and the U.S. military is acting on this. As the HRW’s report said:

“Even if there were armed group members in the mosque, understanding the nature of the targeted building and the pattern of life around the building would be crucial to assess the risk to civilians and take necessary precautions to minimize civilian casualties. Striking a mosque just before prayer and then attacking people attempting to flee the area without knowing whether they were civilians or combatants may well have been disproportionate and a violation of the laws of war even if there were armed group members in the mosque.”

Even if the mosque was not targeted, knowing that night prayer was taking place and that a mosque was nearby the alleged community hall that was targeted, should be enough information to take further precautions. It was also known that the religious lectures took place every Thursday evening in the area. As Ole Solvang, lead researcher on the HRW investigation told Al Jazeera:

“The U.S. seems to have gotten several things fundamentally wrong in this attack, and dozens of civilians paid the price.” 

Before taking action, especially when referring to strikes, better intel and knowledge is essential. For the sake of saving lives and truly helping these nations, in fact, any type of intervention, being this military or political, needs security intelligence as well as comprehension on the economic, political, social and cultural traits of the country the intervention takes place in. If this is not given the necessary importance, further innocent lives will continue to be spared and more damage than good will be done.

 

 

Featured image via Majd Khalaf/Twitter

 

From Mexico City, Carolina has lived in five different countries, experiences she defines as the most enriching. She has focused her studies and work on international conflicts and international security issues, diplomacy and protocol. Carolina holds two MA degrees and hopes to begin her PhD studies soon.