The U.S. military says an air strike Thursday in northwestern Syria targeted a large gathering of al-Qaeda members meeting in a building across the street from a mosque, but deny that a nearby mosque was hit by the airstrike.
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A human rights group has alleged that as many as 42 people were killed in an airstrike on a mosque in a rebel held village in Idlib Province. U.S. Central Command said several al-Qaeda militants were killed in the airstrike.
"U.S. forces conducted an airstrike on an al-Qaeda in Syria meeting location March 16 in Idlib, Syria, killing several terrorists," read a statement released Thursday night by CENTCOM.
"Idlib has been a significant safe haven for al-Qaeda in recent years," the statement added.
Located west of Aleppo, Idlib Province is held by various rebel groups. The U.S. military has previously targeted al-Qaeda members who it said gravitated there to take advantage of the security vacuum created by the Syrian civil war to plan overseas terror plots.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a human rights monitoring group based in the United Kingdom, said Thursday that an airstrike on a mosque in al Jina, a village near Aleppo, had killed 42 people and injured dozens of others.
But several U.S. military officials disputed that allegation saying the airstrike targeted a building near a mosque where the al-Qaeda members were gathered. They stressed that the mosque itself was not damaged by the airstrike.
"We did not strike nor did we hit the mosque that was within 50 feet of the half of the building that we struck where a meeting of al-Qaeda in Syria was taking place," said CENTCOM spokesman Colonel John Thomas.
A military official said they targeted "a significant-sized gathering" of al-Qaida members. The official said that an assessment is underway to determine how many al-Qaeda members may have been killed in the strike and will look at the allegations of possible civilian casualties from the airstrike. Another military official said it was indeed possible that dozens of al-Qaeda militants may have been killed in the airstrike.
In its statement, CENTCOM noted an airstrike in January had destroyed an Al Qaeda terrorist training camp in Idlib Province that killed more than 100 fighters it said were being trained in terror tactics.