US forces fighting extremist militia in Syria did not take necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties when it hit a mosque in Syria’s western Aleppo region in March, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tuesday.
On March 17, the Omar Ibn al-Khattab mosque in the village of al-Jinneh to the west of Aleppo, was hit by airstrikes.
HRW said the strike killed at least 38 people.
At the time, the Syrian Observatory for Human Right put the death toll at 46.
“The US seems to have gotten several things fundamentally wrong in this attack, and dozens of civilians paid the price,” said Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at HRW.
“The US authorities need to figure out what went wrong, start doing their homework before they launch attacks, and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he added.
The US military said it had killed a number of extremists in an airstrike in Syria, but said they targeted a meeting of al-Qaeda linked group.
On Tuesday, the watchdog said that statements by US military authorities after the attack indicated that they failed to understand that the target was a mosque, where a religious lecture was taking place ahead of the evening prayer.
“A proper analysis of the target and its use would probably have established at least some of these elements,” HRW said.
It said that attacking people attempting to flee the mosque without knowing whether they were civilians or combatants violates “the laws of war, as does failing to take all feasible precautions to minimise civilian deaths.”
It said it has not found evidence to support the allegation that members of al-Qaeda or any other armed group were meeting in the mosque.
The US led coalition has been bombing jihadist groups in war-torn Syria since 2014.
HRW said it had interviewed 14 people with first-hand knowledge of the attack, including four who were in the mosque at the time.
It added that first responders said the dead and injured wore civilian clothes and that they saw no weapons at the site.
The watchdog called on the US government to make public the detailed findings of its investigation, provide adequate redress to civilian victims or their families, and hold those responsible to account.
Nigerian Pilot reports that US official after the attack in March said that they were targeting an ‘Al Qaeda meeting place” that was across from the mosque in Aleppo.
“We took the strike’”, he tweeted.
US Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesperson, Maj. Josh Jacques, saud the Americans conducted a strike on a target just several miles away, in the bordering Idlib province, and was looking into the Aleppo suburb mosque strike.
The CENTCOM spokesman, told the London-based Airwars monitoring group that the target 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,” said Jacques, specifying that the mosque was not the target and that it wasn’t hit directly.