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Human Rights Watch: US Strike That Hit Mosque 'Likely Unlawful'

Image: Human Rights Watch: US Strike That Hit Mosque 'Likely Unlawful'

By    |   Tuesday, 18 Apr 2017 02:45 PM

Human Rights Watch issued a news release and an extensive report Tuesday on a U.S. missile strike last month the organization said hit a Syrian mosque, calling the attack "likely unlawful" and appealing for continued investigations into the attack.

The attack took place in Syria's Aleppo province, and local activists claimed the strike killed more than 40 people, mostly civilians.

The Pentagon is investigating the strike, The Hill reported Tuesday, stating officials had originally claimed the building was not a mosque and said they were targeting a meeting of al-Qaida terrorists.

Human Rights Watch, based in the U.S., is a nonprofit nongovernmental agency that conducts research and acts as an advocate on human rights. In their report, the organization said it was well known the building was a mosque.

"While the mosque did not have a minaret or a dome that would have been visible by aerial surveillance, local residents said that dozens, if not hundreds, of people were gathering in the building at prayer times," the report said. "Aerial surveillance of the building should have shown this. Local residents also said that the mosque was well known and widely used by people in the area."

The report based its findings on interviews with people at the building at the time of the strike, first responders, journalists, local residents, and medical personnel who treated victims.

Military officials claimed the strike happened after evening prayer, but the report contradicted that and stated the attack took place about 15 minutes before the evening prayer was to begin. The report also said it was well known there were lectures in the building every Thursday, followed by an evening prayer.

The report contradicted U.S. claims it was a meeting spot for terrorist groups, and residents told them the area was controlled by the Free Syrian Army, a rebel group the U.S. considers moderate.

The report also included information claiming there was a second wave of attacks that "killed and injured people who were trying to flee."

In an April 14 letter to Human Rights Watch, U.S. Central Command said preliminary findings indicated the attack was lawful.

"We carefully review every allegation of civilian casualties that may have been caused by a coalition airstrike," Staff Judge Advocate Col. Patrick Huston wrote, according to Human Rights Watch.

"In this particular case, we also conducted a thorough examination of the classified intelligence used to inform the targeting decision, the classified intelligence that emerged following the strike. This comprehensive investigation reached the preliminary conclusion that the strike was lawful," Huston wrote.

However, he added officials "welcome additional information to assist our investigations" and indicated there would be further reviews in light of the report.

Human Rights Watch stressed the laws of war strictly prohibit attacks targeting civilians or civilian structures (including mosques, unless they were being used for military purposes), indiscriminate attacks that fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets, and disproportionate attacks where the civilian casualties or damage to civilian buildings is excessive to the military advantage gained.

Violations, the group said, could amount to war crimes, and questioned whether U.S. officers were "criminally reckless in authorizing the attack."

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Human Rights Watch issued a news release and an extensive report Tuesday on a U.S. missile strike last month the organization said hit a Syrian mosque, calling the attack "likely unlawful" and appealing for continued investigations into the attack.
missile, strike, mosque, Human Rights Watch
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2017-45-18
Tuesday, 18 Apr 2017 02:45 PM
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