An airstrike in eastern Syria destroyed a house that the Islamic State had turned into a prison, killing dozens of people, Syrian activists said Tuesday, and they blamed the military coalition led by the United States for the attack.
A spokesman for the coalition confirmed that it had bombed buildings controlled by the Islamic State in the area on Monday and said that it was investigating the reports of civilian deaths.
Reports of civilians killed by coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria have climbed in recent months, and American officials have attributed the rise to the increasingly urban nature of the battle to defeat the jihadists.
But the total civilian toll remains unclear because of the remoteness of many of the strike sites and the lack of independent sources in territory held by the Islamic State who can verify reports.
Independent watchdog groups cite much higher numbers of civilian deaths than the figure reported by the coalition.
This month, the coalition said in a statement that it believed that it had unintentionally killed at least 484 civilians in Iraq and Syria since the start of the air campaign against the jihadists in 2014. More than 130 of those were killed in April, an increase in the monthly toll.
But Airwars, an organization that tracks civilian casualty reports through social media and other sources, said that as of June 8, the coalition had killed at least 4,118 civilians, and perhaps more than 16,000, since the start of the bombing campaign.
Neither group has finished investigating the reported strike on the prison.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the conflict in Syria from Britain with the help of contacts on the ground, said the strike early Monday had destroyed a house near the town of Mayadeen in eastern Syria that the jihadists had converted into a prison. The group said the strike had killed at least 42 civilian prisoners, 15 Islamic State guards and an unknown number of Islamic State members who had been locked up, presumably for running afoul of the group.
Another Syrian activist group, Deirezzor24, also reported the strike, saying the Islamic State had used the house to lock up hundreds of members of rebel groups who opposed the jihadists. It said that more than 60 civilians and a pair of Islamic State guards had been killed in Monday’s strike.
Yaser al-Hamad, a Syrian from the area who is now in Germany, said via the messaging service WhatsApp that the house, which had three floors and was surrounded by a high wall, was seized by the Islamic State in 2015. After it was bombed on Monday, Islamic State militants dug bodies out of the rubble and put them in a nearby ice factory, where residents were called to claim them, said Mr. Hamad, who spoke with relatives of the dead. Most of the bodies were unrecognizable, he said.
Col. Ryan Dillon, a United States military spokesman in Baghdad, said the coalition had struck command-and-control facilities and other infrastructure belonging to the Islamic State near Mayadeen on Monday. Reports of civilian deaths would be investigated, Colonel Dillon said, with the results published in a monthly summary.
“The coalition’s goal is always for zero human casualties,” he said. “We apply rigorous standards to our targeting process and take extraordinary efforts to protect noncombatants.”
Source: New York Times