U.S. Central Command is currently undertaking two separate but interrelated investigations into whether a recent American airstrike on March 16 in Syria killed 49 civilians worshipping in a religious complex.
One investigation aims to find out if assertions from locals in Al Jinah are true and civilians were in fact killed in the operation; the latter is broader and seeks to determine if the building that was hit was actually a part of the Omar ibn al-Khatab mosque.
The New York Times’ reporting has the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights saying that 49 people were killed in a “massacre” of civilians who were “participating in religious instruction.” Locals have tried to back up this assertion by producing photos that show a sign for the mosque in the airstrike rubble.
U.S. Defense officials are willing to say that the airstrike was in the vicinity of a mosque, but are currently holding that the building that was destroyed was not the Omar ibn al-Khatab mosque, but rather an “Al Qaeda meeting site.” Central Command spokesman Col. John J. Thomas says the investigations will attempt to clarify the purpose of the building in question and investigators will talk to local witnesses.
“We’re investigating because we would like to look into it and find out if we can learn anything,” said Thomas.