According to the International Business Times, at least 50 civilians were killed as a result of the airstrike. If the allegations are true, last month’s strike would be the worst incident of civilian casualties since airstrikes began inside Syria.
In the report by McClatchy DC, eyewitnesses claimed that on the evening of December 28, the U.S.-led coalition leveled Al Saraya, a government building in the town of Al-Bab.
U.S. Central Command confirmed Saturday that there was an airstrike in late December, but that only nine deaths were reported.
“Coalition aircraft did strike and destroy an ISIL headquarters building in Al-Bab on Dec. 28,” CENTCOM spokesperson Col. Patrick S. Ryder said in an email in response to McClatchy’s inquiries regarding the alleged deaths. Col. Ryder went on to say that, in a review of the airstrike, no civilian casualties were found, but that the investigation would continue.
“This is something we always take seriously,” said Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby. “We are very mindful of trying to mitigate the risk to civilians every time we operate, everywhere we operate.”
Generally, Central Command issues reports of all air strikes on the day they occur, but recently has only been publishing three days a week. In fact, if it were not for McClatchy’s report and constant inquiries, the attack on Al-Bab might have gone unreported.
McClatchy cites the Syrian Human Rights Network (SHRN), a U.K.-based NGO founded in 2011 that documents atrocities against the Syrian people. SHRN documented 80 deaths as a result of the air strikes: 55 civilians and 25 members of ISIL.
After the airstrike, volunteers demanded access to the wreckage and took days to unearth the bodies, which were turned over to the families of those who died..
Incidents such as the air raid on Al-Bab are rarely reported not only because of the small population (around 150,000), but because these towns are often controlled by ISIL.
Reporting on the airstrikes in the area is seen as risky for residents, who may face incarceration or even death.
In this instance however Col. Ryder simply wrote it off “as an administrative oversight.”
A huge oversight it may be, because McClatchy was able to find two credible sources that provide testimony that the death toll was much greater than nine. Other than the findings by SHRN, an eyewitness claimed that there were 13 members of ISIL that died and 61 civilian deaths. The anonymous witness, who is referred to as “Abu Rabi’e” claimed an aircraft flew over the city around 10 PM.
“A while later, I heard the sound of a massive explosion. The whole city shook,” said the witness. After the bombing, “there was shooting in the streets, and the Islamic State used loudspeakers to announce a curfew. The sound of ambulances could be heard all night.” He went on to say that Al Saraya, which ISIL had converted into a temporary holding facility for minor infractions, had been completely destroyed.
It was first discovered that Al Saraya had been converted into a prison by SHRN spokeswoman Huda al Ali, who in an investigation not only found this to be a violation of Sharia law, but also that the building was being used to hold those who opposed ISIL.
“The missile was very powerful and destroyed the building completely,” said al Ali. “According to the information we gathered, 80 bodies were found after the strike, 25 of them are Islamic State fighters and the rest are prisoners.” More than half of those were believed to be civilians held for violations of Sharia.