'Airstrike hit al-Qa'ida meeting, not mosque', says US
The United States struck an al-Qa'ida gathering in northern Syria, killing dozens of militants, and is investigating reports that civilians were killed, US officials said yesterday.
Syrian opposition activists said around 40 people, mostly civilians, were killed in a mosque in the area, accusing the US-led coalition of carrying out the airstrike on Thursday evening.
Friday prayers were cancelled across rebel-held parts of northern Syria yesterday after the airstrike that opposition activists and paramedics said struck the crowded Omar Ibn al-Khattab Mosque in the Jeeneh district in Aleppo province, killing and wounding dozens of people, some of whom were left trapped under the rubble.
US army Major Josh Jacques, a Central Command spokesman, said the US did not target or strike a mosque.
"We targeted an al-Qa'ida gathering across the street from a mosque. The mosque does not appear to be damaged following the strike," he said, adding: "We are aware of the reports of civilian casualties and we are looking into it."
Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "We are not aware of any credible assessment of civilian casualties."
He showed reporters a US military photo of the strike and said that "dozens" of al-Qa'ida militants who were meeting in the building were targeted and killed.
The photo showed extensive damage to the building, and debris scattered toward the mosque, but little visible damage to the mosque or two cars parked next to it.
He said the US was aware the mosque was next door and deliberately did not strike it.
He said that some video he has seen showed damage to the building on the other side of the al-Qa'ida base.
Cpt Davis said the US believes there were some high ranking individuals there, but he did not identify them, and said the US is still assessing the results of the strike.
He said al-Qa'ida had been using the building as a meeting place, but he said he did not know if the building had at some point been associated with the mosque next door.
A powerful Syrian opposition group and other opposition activists blamed the US-led coalition for the airstrike, but it was not clear how the opposition group knew who carried out the strike. Russian and Syrian aircraft are known also to operate in the region.