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Pentagon denies airstrike hit mosque in Syria, says target was al Qaida militants

Published: Friday, March 17, 2017 9:28 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military killed dozens of al-Qaida militants in an airstrike in northern Syria, the Pentagon said Friday, but it denied local reports that a mosque had been struck and dozens of civilians were killed.

“We are not aware of any credible assessment of civilian casualties,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

The Britain-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the strike had hit a mosque that was crowded for evening prayers, killing at least 42 people, mostly civilians.

“The mosque is still standing and relatively unscathed,” Davis said.

The Pentagon released a black-and-white photo Friday showing the site in Jinah after the strike Thursday night. It shows a small mosque seemingly undamaged, and the targeted building in rubble. The military said it targeted the place where al-Qaida senior leaders were meeting and “deliberately did not target the mosque” across the street.

“We had tracked this building for some time. We know it was being used by al-Qaida,” Davis said.

The area “was extensively surveilled prior to the strike in order to minimize civilian casualties … . We are still assessing the results of the strike, but believe that dozens of core al-Qaida terrorists were killed,” he said.

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©2017 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

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