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US Military Denies Reports It Bombed Mosque in Syria

March 17,2017 05:29

WASHINGTON — The United States military said that it had carried out an airstrike against a meeting of Qaeda militants on Thursday in Syria and that a number of the extremists had been killed. The American military statement came as Syria activists ...

U.S. forces struck an al-Qaeda meeting in the Syrian province of Idlib, killing several suspected terrorists, and are investigating reports that civilians were killed or injured in a nearby mosque, military officials told NBC News on Thursday night.

Civil defense team members try to rescue people trapped under the debris of a mosque after an aerial attack in Aleppo on March 16. Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
The officials made the comments after the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a nonpartisan group based in Britain that catalogs military actions in Syria, said at least 42 people were killed in an airstrike on a mosque in the rebel-held village of al-Jinnah southwest of Atareb, which is in the western countryside of the neighboring province of Aleppo.

The observatory said it didn't know who launched the attack.

Some human rights activists and monitors alleged that the United States hit the mosque. But a senior U.S. military official told NBC News that while there was a mosque about 50 feet from the U.S. target, the United States has photographic evidence that the mosque was not hit and was still standing.

The official wouldn't rule out the possibility that the mosque may have been struck or blown up later by someone else.

Related: Trump Admin Ups Drone Strikes, Tolerates Higher Civilian Casualties

The conflicting reports come one day after at least 25 people were killed in a suicide bombing at the main court complex in Syria's capital, Damascus, on the sixth anniversary of the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

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U.N. investigators reported early this month that both sides in Syria's civil war committed repeated war crimes during the battle for Aleppo last year.

Related: Syria Children Killed, Forced to Fight In Record Numbers: UNICEF

The Syrian and Russian militaries have carried out many air strikes in Aleppo and Idlib provinces. The United States has also carried out strikes there in recent months, targeting a rebel group that until last year was an affiliate of al-Qaeda.

NBC News reported Tuesday that the Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to make it easier for the CIA and the military to target terrorists with drone strikes, even if it means tolerating more civilian casualties.

The plan is part of a broad policy shift to grant the CIA and the military more autonomy to target and kill al Qaeda and ISIS militants without presidential authorization in Syria and other countries, U.S. officials said.

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