The United States’ military has announced that it is investigating whether an air strike on an alleged Al-Qaeda leader in Syria killed a civilian instead.
On 3 May, the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that it struck a “senior Al Qaeda leader” in north-west Syria, as part of its continued targeting of the group and its waning presence in the region.
Only hours later, however, a 72-year-old man named Mohammed Misto reported that his brother – a civilian named Lotfi Hassan Misto – was killed by the strike on the outskirts of the village of Qurqania.
Misto said that his 56-year-old brother “was happy with his life and everyone loved him and appreciated him. He minded his own business and lived at the edge of the village.”
He insisted that Lotfi did not have any ties to Al-Qaeda, had 12 children, owned a chicken farm, and “was tending to his sheep in the mountain when the aircraft came and targeted him”. He was “not in Al-Qaeda and everything being said about him being in Al-Qaeda or in the Nusra Front is all lies upon lies. Even the American propaganda is all false.”
In a statement yesterday CENTCOM spokesman Maj John Moore announced that it “continues to assess the outcome of the strike and has been made aware of allegations that it may have resulted in a civilian casualty.” He stated that CENTCOM is “investigating to determine whether or not the action may have unintentionally resulted in harm to civilians.”
According to the Washington Post, two anonymous US defence officials said, “We are no longer confident we killed a senior AQ official”, but that although “we believe the strike did not kill the original target, we believe the person to be al-Qaeda.”
The paper also cited Jerome Drevon, a senior analyst on jihadism and modern conflict with the International Crisis Group, as saying that Al-Qaeda sympathisers usually announce leaders’ deaths online to commemorate martyrdom, and that people close to lower-level operatives will often express their connection. In this case, Drevon said, “there was nothing.”