US investigates civilian death report in Syria strike

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The strike took place near the Deir ez-Zor airbase The US military has launched an investigation after a strike on al Qaeda in Syria killed at least two…

US investigates civilian death report in Syria strike

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The strike took place near the Deir ez-Zor airbase

The US military has launched an investigation after a strike on al Qaeda in Syria killed at least two civilians and injured two others.

Local officials in Raqqa and al Shafa districts in the province where the strike took place told Reuters that the strike had killed a woman and a child.

The US military said it was still assessing whether civilians had been killed.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday described the al Qaeda leader targeted in the strike as “not just a military target, but a human being”.

“At least a dozen” civilians were killed by a strike on the al-Shafa area on 20 March, a local official in Raqqa told Reuters.

“When we heard the sound of a car in a roadside ditch, we ran to check and saw a woman, her baby boy in her arms, and three dead people from behind, including a man with a baby in his arms,” the local official said.

A witness in Raqqa told Reuters a child was also in the car that hit the roadside ditch.

Fayez al-Khayr, a resident of al Shafa, said: “This morning, just after school, four masked men forced their way into a car parked outside my house at gunpoint and took the five children away.

“I saw a car and another car filled with people go by and it seemed from my distance that it was people in an ambulance taking those who had been hit to the hospital.”

Kurdish officials said the strike had targeted Abu Fida’i al-Ansari, a senior al Qaeda leader.

If true, the latest reported civilian casualties are a particular embarrassment for the US military, which had pledged last year to be more transparent with civilian casualties and recover bodies after strikes.

Al Ansari was identified as the son of Sheikh Aws al-Ansari, a member of the al Qaeda Yemeni group formerly known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The group had been active in the Idlib region of north-west Syria, where it has been fighting Syrian government forces backed by Iran and Russia.

Dozens of civilians are believed to have been killed in similar strikes.

Al Ansari had earlier spoken to al Jazeera in November 2017 via satellite phone from inside al Qaeda’s besieged stronghold of Idlib province, saying it remained committed to its goal of changing the “global order”.

He denied reports by US intelligence officials that the group was making preparations to carry out a significant attack in the US, saying “we have been disappointed by the pessimism of the political and media and so it has been so far”.

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