US claims deadly north Syria strike, denies targeting mosque

WASHINGTON — The US military said Thursday it carried out a deadly air strike on an al-Qaeda meeting in northern Syria and would investigate reports that more than 40 civilians were killed when a mosque was struck in the raid.

“We did not target a mosque, but the building that we did target — which was where the meeting took place — is about 50 feet from a mosque that is still standing,” said Colonel John J. Thomas, spokesman for US Central Command.

According to a CENTCOM statement, “US forces conducted an airstrike on an al-Qaeda in Syria meeting location March 16 in Idlib, Syria, killing several terrorists.”

The CENTCOM spokesman later clarified that the precise location of the strike was unclear — but that it was the same one widely reported to have targeted the village mosque in Al-Jineh, in Aleppo province.

Illustrative: US Navy F-18E Super Hornets flying over northern Iraq as part of the US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State and other targets, September 23, 2014. (AP/US Air Force, Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel)

“We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike,” he added, when asked about reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that 42 people had died, most of them civilians.

“We take that very seriously,” he said, adding that CENTCOM had not received any direct reports of civilian casualties.

Thomas said the unilateral US strike “destroyed one half of a building in which the meeting was occurring.”

Al-Jineh is held by rebel and Islamist groups, but no jihadist factions are thought to be present.

The Britain-based Observatory said that raids by unidentified warplanes had targeted the village mosque during evening prayers.

It said more than 100 people were wounded, with many still trapped under the collapsed mosque.

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