Up to nine civilians including two women and three children were reported killed in the US military operation that successfully targeted ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in Barisha village in Idlib countryside, Syria, on October 26th, 2019.
Al-Baghdadi was an ISIS leader who declared himself a Caliphate in Mosul, Iraq in 2014, and according to local sources was killed in an overnight raid, and that whole operation lasted for around four hours.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SNHR), U.S. helicopters came from Turkish territories, carried out a landing in the area and clashed with militants near the targeted house of al-Baghdadi west of Barisha where many casualties were reported. Among the nine alleged civilian deaths were two or three women and up to three children. The Observatory said it believed the death toll was bound to rise because there had been many other injuries with victims in a serious condition. Local sources also mentioned that the targeted area was a few kilometres away from Tor Laha where a camp for internally displaced persons is located.
US President Trump and an official from the Pentagon said that al-Baghdadi blew himself up after hiding in a dead-end tunnel killing himself, with family members around him. In his statement addressing the US people after the operation, Trump said al-Baghdadi dragged three of his children with him to the tunnel where they were killed with him after he blew himself up. He also mentioned that 11 children were taken out of the area uninjured. However, Newsweek, reporting US Defense officials said that only al-Baghdadi’s wife was killed in the operation but none of his children was injured. Other Pentagon sources claimed that al-Baghdadi’s two wives were killed by blowing themselves up with explosive vests.
Describing the scene of the operation, local medical sources said that as a result of the operation, a house was completely destroyed and a number of tents were burned. Seven bodies were found in the area, among the bodies of a child and three women, in addition to five injuries.
According to Shbabbek.com, among seven bodies found near the area, three of them belong to civilians who happened to be passing by during the time of the operation, and that many cars moving around were targeted. Reuters also reported that the bodies of three men and three women were found in addition to al-Baghdadi’s. His companion and security man Ghazawan Arrawi is also believed to have been killed in the operation.
A report published by NPR on December 3rd 2019 stated that locals reported the killing of two civilians and the injury of a third one in the Coalition airstrike that killed Al Baghdadi: “Syrians say civilians were killed and wounded during the U.S. raid on ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. That contradicts the account by the U.S. military, which says it’s looking into the matter.”
The report stated that two relatives of their contact in Syria – who lives abroad – were killed. The mother of one of those killed said that “her son and his cousin were driving through the village of Barisha when their van was hit.”
Sources identified the victims as cousins Khaled Mustafa Qurmo (27 years old) and Khaled Abdel Majid Qurmo (30 years old). “Their relatives said that another man named Barakat Barakat was also in the car, and his hand was blown off.”
Barakat (45), the only survivor in the van narrates what happened: “I was with my best friends. They wanted to drop me off at home. We had pumpkin seeds and bought coffee on the road and were having fun. We were driving through the village of Barisha. And at that moment, the helicopters arrived. Suddenly, we were hit. I didn’t know what was going on. I was just trying to escape death.”
In an update about this incident by NPR in October 2020, the US military conducted and concluded an investigation into the matter, classifying the two killed men as combatants. Majida Qurmo, the widow of one of the victims, called it “an investigation of lies”.
According to NPR, “the military’s account of events, shared with NPR, offers no evidence the men were combatants or intended to threaten troops, raising the question of whether the U.S. is mischaracterizing innocent civilians as the enemy as it protects the official narrative of a celebrated operation against one of the military’s most-wanted targets.”
CENTCOM spokesman Capt. Bill Urban told the NPR that as the van approached, a U.S. helicopter fired warning shots: “A normal reaction to warning shots in the middle of the night from a helicopter would be to stop and turn around if you had no business being there. But they proceeded towards the helicopter and accelerated.”
According to Capt Urban, the men fled, running in the direction of the targeted ISIS compound without raising their hands, leaving U.S. forces to perceive them to “demonstrate hostile intent”, after which the helicopter fired at that. The victims did not open fire and the military found no evidence that they were armed.
Barakat Barakat continues to suffer from the consequences of the attack. The NPR report states: “What worries him most is how to provide for his five children. He cannot work. Part of his right arm is gone, he can only use two fingers on his left hand, and doctors tell him he needs surgery. He is ashamed to have to beg for bread.”
The incident occured between 11:00 pm and 3:30 am local time.
The victims were named as:
Family members (2)
- Barakat Barakat 35 years old male lost his hand injured
Sources (27) [ collapse]
Reports of the incident mention a raid on the hiding place of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, then leader of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, in vicinity of the village of Barisha (باريشا). The exact coordinates for this location is: 36.165820, 36.627355