The death of a 12 year old boy, Fares al-Khodour in an alleged Coalition airstrike on al Hassakah on July 9th led to an international outpouring of grief and condemnation of the ongoing civil war in Syria – and of the Coalition’s own involvement.
Fares had fled as a refugee with his family to Beirut, Lebanon where he became a flower seller in busy Hamra Street. Popular with Beirutis for his friendly manner and smart dress, Fares soon earned the nickname among some as Hamra’s Mascot, and he was often photographed smiling with his customers. Many such pictures were published on social media following his death, with at least one candlelit vigil held in Beirut in his memory. According to al Araby, “Once asked about what he wants to be when he grows up, Fares answered: “I want to be a lawyer to defend kids who work and don’t go to school.“
Fares had only reportedly returned to his home town in Syria a few days before his death, in order to visit family members. Few details of the alleged strike itself have emerged, with Turkish agency Anatolia News apparently the first to report the death of Fares two days after the event. Heavy coalition airstrikes have been confirmed on al Hassakah on the day in question.
Controversially al Hadath claimed that a young suicide bomber with the nom de guerre of Abu Khattab Al Ansari, who had carried out a suicide attack on Kurdish positions in Raqqa on July 7th, was in fact Fares. The story was roundly condemned as a fake, including by Fares’ surviving brother Youssef.
A family member later indicated that Fares died along with up to six other villagers – including three or four children – when passing fuel trucks were targeted.
In mid 2017, US film maker Noel Paul (who had met Fares in Beirut) began collating evidence about the event. In July 2017, he was told by Coalition officials: “CJTF-OIR is aware of the incident and has completed an assessment, and based on the information available to our assessment team, they have assessed that there is insufficient evidence to find that civilians were harmed in this strike. However, if you are able to provide additional information, such as GPS coordinates for the strike, names and any additional information about the alleged victim we will re-open this report and take another look at it.”
Mr Paul was able to obtain near coordinates for the event from surviving family members – and to place the strike at the tiny village of Abyad, 36°20’04”N 40°33’26”E.
In its monthly civilian casualty report for October 2019 – published on December 5th of that year – the Coalition again assessed the event as ‘non credible’, noting that “July 9, 2015, in Abyad Village, Syria, via Airwars report. After a review of all available records it was assessed that no Coalition actions were conducted in the geographical area that corresponds to the report of civilian casualties. 2823/CS095 37SFA398222”.
Coalition officials also provided Airwars with a geolocation to within 100 metres of the area reviewed. This showed that they had assessed the event for Abyad.
The local time of the incident is unknown.