56 people died in the Al Jina massacre that took place Thursday evening just after sunset prayers. It was a confirmed US airstrike that the US Central Command (CENTCOM) acknowledged. However, their aknowledgement was not what most expected.
Pentagon spokesperson Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters that his government struck a “partially constructed community hall” that was being used by Al Qaida fighters. US officials confirmed that at least four Hellfire missiles struck their targets and they dropped a 500 pound guided bomb minutes after the initial strikes.
Upon analysis it is clear that the building that was hit was a part of the mosque. It was all one building. The mosque was left standing but it was affected by the airstrikes. In addition to that almost 10 people, according to local accounts, were killed outside of the mosque who were standing in the street and were not a part of any meeting taking place inside the mosque. When I arrived to cover the tragedy, the main street still had pools of blood from the victims.
Three observations need to be discussed:
1. If the US indeed did meticulously carry out this strike and was careful not to hit the mosque then why were they not equally as careful to avoid the civilians simply walking in the street? It was just after sunset prayers so it is natural that people would be lingering and milling about outside of the mosque. Saying that they were careful not to hit the mosque but not careful regarding people walking around in the street is strange to say the least.
2. According to local people this was not an Al Qaida gathering, but was a Tabligh gathering wherein local preachers gather to discuss sending out those who walk the streets calling people to Islam and advising the people. Locals say that this is a weekly gathering, every Thursday night, that has been taking place for more than 4 years in that same location.
3. From the clear images there is no doubt or dispute that the masjid was hit. A mosque is not only a prayer area. People gather at mosques for meetings, weddings, celebrations, classes, and many other functions. Is it reasonable that someone would say: “I only bombed your kitchen but I didn’t bomb your house”? Would this explanation be accepted by anyone had Islamic forces launched a similar attack on a church on American soil?
The Trump administration, which has not yet seen it’s 50th day, has been caught in numerous scandals. Most recently President Trump clearly stated that former President Obama tapped his phones during last year’s stunning campaign. Then after several investigations that revealed these claims have absolutely no basis by US intelligence services, Trump still remains defiant while not sharing any proof to substantiate his claims.
Using that as a backdrop, can this administration be trusted? The denial of clear evidence that the US disregarded civilian casualties is clear. I find that I ask myself what if there was no video footage? What would the US administration have said? What if westerners had only the word of the US administration and the counter-story of Islamic fighters? Who would most westerners have believed by default?
These are all questions that need to be answered in the days ahead if there is to be true accountability for the massacre of 56 people.