Home News U.S. officers stroll again declare Syria strike killed senior al-Qaeda chief

U.S. officers stroll again declare Syria strike killed senior al-Qaeda chief

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The Washington Publish

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The acknowledgement comes as terrorism consultants and the lifeless man’s household have solid doubt on a Pentagon assertion indicating the operation focused a high-ranking militant in Syria

A video by the Syrian Civil Protection, sometimes called the “White Helmets,” captures the moments after a U.S. strike killed Lotfi Hassan Misto, 56, on Could 3. (Video: The Syrian Civil Protection)

QORQANYA, Syria — U.S. army officers are strolling again claims {that a} current strike in Syria killed an influential al-Qaeda determine, following assertions by the lifeless man’s household that he had no ties to terrorists however was a father of 10 tending to his sheep when he was slain by an American missile.

Lotfi Hassan Misto, 56, whose household recognized him because the sufferer of a Hellfire missile assault on Could 3, was a former bricklayer who lived quietly on this city in northwest Syria, in line with interviews together with his brother, son and 6 others who knew him. They described a form, hard-working man whose “complete life was spent poor.”

The operation was overseen by U.S. Central Command, which claimed hours after the strike, with out citing proof or naming a suspect, that the Predator drone strike had focused a “senior Al Qaeda chief.” However now there’s doubt contained in the Pentagon about who was killed, two U.S. protection officers instructed The Washington Publish.

“We’re not assured we killed a senior AQ official,” one official mentioned. The opposite, providing a barely totally different view, mentioned “although we imagine the strike didn’t kill the unique goal, we imagine the particular person to be al-Qaeda.” Each spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate preliminary determinations of an ongoing investigation into the incident.

Within the weeks for the reason that assault, U.S. army officers have refused to determine publicly who their goal was, how the obvious error occurred, whether or not a professional terrorist chief escaped and why some within the Pentagon preserve Misto was a member of al-Qaeda regardless of his household’s denials.

In an announcement, Michael Lawhorn, a spokesman for Central Command, mentioned officers are conscious of experiences of a civilian casualty and proceed to evaluate the result.

“Centcom takes all such allegations critically and is investigating to find out whether or not or not the motion could have unintentionally resulted in hurt to civilians,” Lawhorn mentioned Thursday.

Usually the Pentagon will widen such investigations if sufficient credible proof of civilian hurt emerges, elevating questions on this case about whether or not the data used to authorize the assault has held as much as scrutiny.

Final yr, going through accusations the army had lined up previous cases of errant airstrikes that killed harmless individuals, the Biden administration vowed to take steps it mentioned would scale back such dangers whereas promising better transparency when unintended killings do happen. Investigations carried out by a number of media retailers, together with The Publish, have revealed how flawed intelligence and what the army calls “affirmation bias” have led to catastrophe, together with a 2021 strike throughout the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan that officers initially declared had resulted within the dying of a suicide bomber however as an alternative killed 10 Afghan civilians, together with 7 youngsters.

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The Publish offered 4 terrorism consultants with particulars about Misto and the place he lived, and requested them to survey on-line discussions amongst jihadists after the strike for any speak in regards to the assault in Qorqanya. None discovered references indicating Misto was affiliated with a terrorist group. And every mentioned it could be very uncommon for al-Qaeda — notably a senior chief — to function in any significant manner close to the world, which is managed by a rival group that cut up from the group years in the past and now considers al-Qaeda an adversary.

The drone strike occurred close to Misto’s dwelling and hen farm. The Publish shared these coordinates with one of many U.S. protection officers, who mentioned the placement is close to a “identified space of curiosity” to al-Qaeda however declined to specify which constructing or buildings have been of concern to america. Misto’s neighbors instructed The Publish that terrorists don’t dwell or function close to the house.


Lotfi Hassan Misto’s dwelling

Satellite tv for pc picture © 2023 Maxar Applied sciences by way of Google Earth

Lotfi Hassan Misto’s dwelling

Satellite tv for pc picture © 2023 Maxar Applied sciences by way of Google Earth

Lotfi Hassan Misto’s dwelling

Satellite tv for pc picture © 2023 Maxar Applied sciences by way of Google Earth

It’s unclear whether or not American commanders overseeing the strike realized Misto lived shut by, and whether or not his dwelling’s proximity to the “identified space of curiosity” to al-Qaeda was an element of their perception that he was a militant.

The Publish obtained photographs displaying Misto’s face earlier than and after his dying and offered these to Central Command. Officers there haven’t mentioned whether or not they imagine he’s the person killed within the strike. Two facial recognition consultants who reviewed the imagery mentioned they have been assured it confirmed the identical particular person, with one knowledgeable’s evaluation reaching 90 p.c certainty. A 3rd discovered inconclusive outcomes.

Particulars about what transpired earlier than and after the U.S. assault have been gathered from interviews with Misto’s household and neighbors and pictures offered by the Syrian Civil Protection, a humanitarian response group sometimes called the “White Helmets” which responded to the strike location inside minutes.

Misto’s neighbors described his routines of ingesting tea with household and mates, tending to his animals and leaving dwelling largely to hope at his mosque. He was a standard Muslim, they mentioned, and didn’t personal a cellphone.

The morning of Could 3 was unremarkable, his son Hassan mentioned. Misto gathered with household at about 7:30 a.m. “We had breakfast that morning like there was nothing improper. We had breakfast and all the things was nice, after which he went to herd his sheep,” the son recalled.

Misto took a break after a couple of hours outdoors close to his dwelling to have tea together with his brother. They parted methods round 11:30 a.m., and he returned to his animals as they grazed in a rolling discipline of shrubs, twisting bushes and rock outcroppings.

An MQ-9 Predator drone soared overhead, monitoring Misto’s footsteps via the sphere. Such plane had been surveilling the world for almost two weeks, neighbors mentioned. The Hellfire missile hit him not removed from the place he had tea together with his brother simply 20 minutes earlier.

The explosion despatched a pillar of smoke into the brilliant blue sky, elevating alarm within the city.

Plumes of smoke erupted after a U.S. drone strike outdoors Qorqanya, Syria. (Video: Twitter)

A neighborhood resident contacted the White Helmets via an emergency quantity, and a workforce of first responders arrived inside 10 minutes. No less than one wore a video digital camera on his helmet.

The beforehand unpublished video, which was offered to The Publish, reveals a dozen individuals standing close by as the help employees arrive. Most stare in shock. Some cry.

The video reveals two males making an attempt to tug certainly one of Misto’s sons, Muhammed Misto, away from his father’s severely disfigured physique as one other man covers it with a shirt. Misto’s spouse recognized her husband’s stays to the White Helmets, a spokesperson mentioned, who then took the physique to a hospital on the town.

Muhammad Misto crouches over his father’s physique, as neighbors and different members of the family look on. (Video: The Syrian Civil Protection)

Video and pictures revealed on-line present sheep’s corpses intermixed with fragments from the missile.

Usually, when al-Qaeda leaders are killed, sympathizers announce their deaths on-line as a celebration of martyrdom, mentioned Jerome Drevon, a senior analyst on jihad and fashionable battle with the Worldwide Disaster Group. If the sufferer was a decrease stage member of the group, teams could not announce their dying, he mentioned, however individuals near them will, typically saying how they have been related to the group. On this case, Drevon mentioned “there was nothing.”

Rita Katz, govt director of SITE Intelligence Group, which carefully tracks on-line exercise of jihadist organizations, didn’t discover something on-line that steered Misto was energetic with or tied to al-Qaeda. Not one of the posts Katz reviewed solid doubt on Misto’s civilian standing, she mentioned.

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“In a short time after this strike, the White Helmets got here out and recognized the person together with his title and his occupation. Locals got here ahead to say, this man’s all the time been a farmer. He’s by no means had any political actions; he’s by no means had any affiliation with armed teams,” mentioned Charles Lister, the director of Syria and Countering Terrorism and Extremism on the Center East Institute. “The tempo and breadth of such push-back was really fairly uncommon.”

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a militant group that controls the de facto native authorities and army power in Syria’s Idlib Province, visited the positioning later within the day and eliminated missile parts. A spokesperson for the group, often known as HTS, instructed The Publish the sufferer was a civilian. The group didn’t reply to extra questions or requests for remark.

HTS, a U.S. designated terror group, was affiliated with al-Qaeda however broke ties in 2016 and has since eliminated anybody from the world who doesn’t agree with their viewpoints, the consultants mentioned.

Even when a couple of al-Qaeda leaders are nonetheless on the bottom in Idlib province, Drevon mentioned, “they actually can’t act since HTS has forbidden them from conducting any army actions. All of them are surviving underground or dwelling on the run. They know properly that HTS can arrest them at any time.”

In interviews, Misto’s household and longtime neighbors mentioned the accusation of an al-Qaeda affiliation struck them as weird.

“He was born right here and died right here,” mentioned a neighbor who referred to as himself Abu Zaid.

Misto’s brother was extra pointed. “In the event that they declare that he’s a terrorist, or that they obtained somebody from al-Qaeda,” he mentioned, “they’re all liars.”

Kelly and Horton reported from Washington and Piper reported from London. Sarah Dadouch in Beirut, Cate Brown in Washington and Nilo Tabrizy in New York contributed to this report.



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