US authorities failed to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties in a recent attack on a Syrian mosque, a report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) states, adding that such measures are a requirement under the laws of war.
The report, released Tuesday, notes that although US officials claimed the building targeted on March 16 was a partially-constructed community hall, “information from local residents, photographs, and video footage of the building before and after the attack” show that it was also a mosque.
It goes on to cite locals who said that dozens, if not hundreds, of people regularly gathered at the building at prayer times, and that “aerial surveillance of the building would have shown this.”
“Any attempt to verify through people with local knowledge what kind of building this was would have likely established that the building was a mosque,” the report states.
It goes on to accuse US authorities of appearing to have “inadequately understood the pattern of life in the area,” noting that they said the attack happened after evening prayer – however, it actually occurred 15 minutes before night prayer.
“Information about prayer times is easily accessible online and should have been well known by US authorities,” the report says.
HRW also says that it has not found any evidence to support the allegation that member of Al-Qaeda or any armed group were meeting at the building.
The organization notes that the laws of war prohibit attacks targeting civilians or civilian structures, along with indiscriminate attacks which fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets and where the civilian casualties or damage to civilian buildings is excessive to the military advantage gained.
“Serious violations of the laws of war can amount to war crimes…the US authorities’ failure to understand the most fundamental aspects of the target and pattern of life around the target raises the question whether officers were criminally reckless in authorizing the attack.”
HRW has called on US authorities to conduct a thorough and objective investigation and make the public aware of the detailed findings.
“If the authorities find serious violations of the laws of war, they should refer those responsible for appropriate criminal prosecution,” the report states.
Forty-six people were reportedly killed in last month’s attack in the village of Al-Jineh, in the northern province of Aleppo. US authorities have so far only admitted to bombing an Al-Qaeda meeting place, but have said they will investigate whether civilians were among those killed, and whether the building was part of a complex belonging to Omar Ibn al-Khatab mosque.
Meanwhile, a US-led coalition airstrike earlier this month mistakenly killed 18 allied fighters battling Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in northern Syria, the US Central Command said, noting that coalition aircraft had been given the wrong coordinates by partner forces.