The US has bombed another suspected al Qaeda “meeting location” in Syria, according to US Central Command (CENTCOM). Although CENTCOM describes the building as being located in Idlib province, it is actually in the village of Al Jinah in Aleppo province.
The choice of target was immediately controversial, as Syrian activists said the building was a mosque filled with prayer-goers. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) went so far as to describe it as a “massacre.”
CENTCOM denies that a mosque was struck in the airstrikes yesterday, according to the New York Times. “We did not target any mosques,” Col. John J. Thomas, a US military spokesman, said. “What we did target was destroyed. There is a mosque within 50 feet of that building that is still standing.”
News quickly spread online that the building was a mosque. Hadi Alabdallah, an “independent Syrian journalist” who often reports from hotspots in the war torn country (including areas controlled by Sunni Islamists and jihadists), posted a video on his Twitter feed showing the rubble left by the airstrikes. A screen shot from the video can be seen above.
Bilal Abdul Kareem, an American who operates a small media outfit named “On the Ground News,” which provides pro-al Qaeda coverage, recorded his own video from the purported bombing site. Kareem shows what he says is a prayer room that was damaged in the airstrikes. Kareem claims that 56 people were killed.
Kareem also claims that the mosque was operated by Jamaat Tablighi, a proselytization group that has hosted prayers there every Thursday for the past four years.
It should be noted that while not all Jamaat Tablighi members are part of a Qaeda, US intelligence officials allege that the organization has repeatedly been used by the jihadists as a cover for their travels and operations. For example, Jamaat Tablighi is referenced throughout the declassified and leaked files prepared by Joint Task Force – Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO), which oversees the detention facility in Cuba.
JTF-GTMO’s analysts noted Jamaat Tablighi “is designated a National Intelligence Priority Framework (NIPF) Priority 2A Terrorist Support Entity (TSE),” which is defined as a group that has “demonstrated intent and willingness to provide financial support to terrorist organizations willing to attack US persons or interests.”
Numerous Guantanamo detainees claimed affiliation with Jamaat Tablighi (JT), but JTF-GTMO found this was an al Qaeda “cover story” and al Qaeda “used the JT to facilitate and fund the international travels of its members.”
CENTCOM invites a comparison between the location bombed in Al Jinah and a large training camp that was bombed in January. CENTCOM’s statement references the Shaykh Sulayman facility (“an Al Qaeda terrorist training camp”), “where more than 100 fighters were being trained in terror tactics.”
The Shaykh Sulayman training camp had been in operation since 2013, but was not struck until early 2017.
The US has targeted known al Qaeda veterans in Syria with precision airstrikes since 2014. The US rarely went after larger facilities associated with al Qaeda.
But that changed during the first three weeks of this year. The shift in tactics occurred before the Trump administration took power on Jan. 20. The Defense Department reported that “more than 150 al Qaeda terrorists,” including some suspected of plotting against Western interests, were killed between Jan. 1 and Jan. 19. Most of them were struck down at the Shaykh Sulayman training camp in Idlib province.
CENTCOM claims that “several terrorists” were killed in the bombings yesterday.
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