The England-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 42 people had died and more than a 100 had been wounded in air strikes on a village mosque in Aleppo province. Photograph: (AFP)
US Central Command said they did not target the mosque but another building 15 metres away
On Thursday evening an air strike hit the Syrian town of Al-Jinah, near the city of Aleppo. A local mosque was also struck during the attack and at least 42 civilians died.
The US Central Command (Centcom) claimed responsibility for the military action, but denied to have hit the mosque. They said the operation was meant to target an al-Quaeda venue.
Al-Jinah is located in the Idlib plain. The area is majorly controlled by several Islamist anti-Assad brigades among which Ahrar al-Sham and Jabat Fateh-al Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra which was born as the Syrian branch of al-Quaeda, but has apparently severed its ties to the organisation.
The map shows the distance between the town of Al-Jinah and Aleppo. (Photo source: Wikimapia) (Others)
Syrian and Russian air forces, also active in the area, did not release any statement.
Colonel John J Thomas, spokesman for US Central Command confirmed that US fighters targeted a building located very close to the mosque.
"We did not target a mosque, but the building that we did target, which was where the meeting took place -- is about 50 feet (15 meters) from a mosque that is still standing," he said. "We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike."
The partial collapse of the mosque could be the result of the close proximity of what the US claim to have been the real target. Parts of the building could have collapsed due to the impact of the airstrikes.
If this is the case it means that the attack was not a light one and the miscalculation of the bombing's side effects led to the killing of the believers praying in the mosque.
The investigative website Bellingcat has published a picture showing a fragment of a bomb which was found under the mosque's rubbles. Bellingcat was able to verify through opensource information that the picture is most likely authentic, but the team could not verify if the fragment was actually located within the rubbles.
Photo shows the remnants of a bomb used in the airstrike on the ‘Umar ibn Al-Khaṭṭāb mosque in the rebel-held village of al-Jinā, w-Aleppo. pic.twitter.com/aGsqMjcWIJ— Sakir Khader (@sakirkhader) March 16, 2017
The picture originally appeared on the Twitter account of the journalist Sakir Khader
If this fragment has actually been found on the spot, it could suggest that a bomb fell directly on the mosque.
One single fragment is however not enough to establish a direct attack against, it could have reached the due to the post-explosion defragmentation. An air-to-surface missile causes a large explosion and shrapnel can easily travel for a long distance.
According to local sources quoted again by Bellingcat, the attack took place during the evening prayer when the mosque was crowded with believers.
The operation was part of a large scale US offensive aimed at targeting terrorist organisation active in West Asia. According to the US government, the campaing against the Islamic State has costed 11.4 billion USD since 2014
(WION with inputs from agencies)