Eyewitnesses Reveal Horrors of Syria School Attack

PHOTO: A general view shows a damaged classroom at a school after it was hit in an air strike in the village of Hass, in the south of Syrias rebel-held Idlib province on Oct. 26, 2016.PlayOmar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Booby Traps Left by ISIS Kill, Injure Hundreds in Syria

A fourth-grade girl known for her intelligence and who was her parents' only child was among more than three dozen people, including 15 children, killed by airstrikes in a school compound in Syria on Wednesday.

Interested in Syria?

Add Syria as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Syria news, video, and analysis from ABC News.
Add Interest

The parents of the girl, Bisan Khaled al-Farahat, had trouble conceiving and tried for years before she was born, residents of the village of Haas south of Idlib, a stronghold of forces opposing the government of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, told ABC News.

“The whole neighborhood knows her, and we were all very affected when we learned of her death,” Ayham Abdullah Alsheekh, a local resident who knows the family, told ABC News. “She was very clever. She was maybe 10 years old, but mentally much older. Everyone liked her and she was spoiled.”

Today, he visited her parents to pay his condolences.

“The father especially was very affected by the death of his daughter. It seemed like he was barely conscious or like he had lost his mind. When you spoke to him it was impossible to understand what he was saying,” Alsheekh said.

Several other sources confirmed that Bisan was among those killed. A member of the Syrian Civil Defense in Idlib corroborated details that villagers gave about her.

PHOTO: An Arabic language book lays on the ground at a school that was bombed a day earlier in rebel-held Idlib, Syria, Oct. 27, 2016.Abed Kontar/EPA
An Arabic language book lays on the ground at a school that was bombed a day earlier in rebel-held Idlib, Syria, Oct. 27, 2016.

At least 37 civilians were killed in the airstrikes, including 15 schoolchildren and four teachers, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and local sources. Four people remain missing, the Observatory said. Activists and locals said the airstrikes were either carried out by Russia or the Syrian government, an assertion echoed by a White House spokesman.

Eyewitnesses said the airstrikes targeted an area near schools Wednesday morning. Once residents heard of the attack they rushed out to help and check on their children. That’s when more bombs were dropped from the air, causing the death toll to rise, according to both the Observatory and locals.

“When the first rocket hit, no one was hurt. But the students got scared and wanted to go home so they went outside. Their parents and people who wanted to help went to the area of the schools. Then more rockets fell, and people were killed. I saw bodies on fire and people who were completely burned,” Alsheekh said.

Alsheekh said that after the first blast his cousin went to check on his two children who are 2nd- and 4th-graders. The children survived. The father was killed, leaving behind his pregnant wife and three children.

Among other victims at the school were a brother and sister plus a child who was the only boy among a poor family's 10 children, said Alsheekh.

Ahmad Bakr al-Rahmoun, an ambitious and studious boy who wanted to become an engineer, also lost his life, said Qusai Alhussein, a media activist from a neighboring village who visited Haas immediately after the attack.

“He wanted to work to help support his family, but his mom wouldn’t let him because he was a bright student,” Alhussein told ABC News. “He was very well-behaved and shy.”

When Alhussein arrived at the area of the attack he said he saw a whole neighborhood damaged. Members of the civil defense were trying to rescue people buried under rubble. Near the school, he saw children’s limbs and notebooks soaked in blood.

“We were all very surprised that the attack happened on this neighborhood, which is full of civilians,” said Alhussein. “There are schools in the neighborhood and no weapons or members of the Free Syrian Army.”

Two scenes affected him most, he said. One, a woman who was seriously wounded and buried under the rubble telling the civil defense to leave her and help her children who had lighter injuries. Another was at the hospital, a boy who had completely lost his leg above the knee wasn't crying, but waiting silently to be treated by the busy doctors.

“He seemed like he was in complete shock,” Alhussein said of the boy. ABC News has seen a photo of the child gazing at the camera, his leg mangled.

Today, there were new reports of attacks on Syrian schools in Douma and western Aleppo, which means that five schools have now been hit in Syria since Oct. 11, according to UNICEF. The U.N. envoy for education today called Wednesday's attack a war crime and said the International Criminal Court should immediately investigate.

“I am calling on the Security Council to immediately agree that the International Criminal Court Prosecutor conduct an investigation into what I believe is a war crime -- with the intention that, if proven, the perpetrators will be hunted down and the case against them prosecuted,” U.N. Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown told a press conference at the United Nations in New York.

Brown said the incident is the worst of 98 separate attacks on Syrian schools in the last two years.

Abd Jamalo, a media activist from Idlib who witnessed the aftermath of Wednesday's airstrikes, said he felt disappointed with the international community when he walked around and saw the victims.

“When I arrived at the area -- what I saw -- the civil defense and the blood and the massacre of children -- and when I went to the hospital and saw the scenes -- you don’t know what to say in that situation,” Jamalo told ABC News. “Where is the international community, where is the U.N., where are the humanitarian organizations? This affects us a lot as a people.”

The White House said that either Russia or the Syrian government was responsible for the airstrikes.

"We don't know yet that it was the Assad regime or the Russians that carried out the air strike, but we know it was one of the two," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. "Even if it was the Assad regime that carried it out, the Assad regime is only in a position to carry out those kind of attacks because they are supported by the Russian government."

Russia denied that it was responsible for the attack.

According to the U.N., more than 1.7 million children in Syria remain out of school and another 1.3 million are at a risk of dropping out. Across the country, one in three schools cannot be used because they are either damaged, destroyed, used as shelters for internally displaced people or being used for military purposes. Since the war began in 2011, there have been more than 4,000 attacks on schools in the war-torn country, says the U.N.

Comments