In a three hour operation between midnight and dawn in the al Katef neighborhood in the city of Al Shahil, at least five people were killed. Most local sources that reported on the incident claimed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were responsible, with air support from the International Coalition.
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, five civilians were shot by the SDF with support of International Coalition planes. Zaman Al Wasl claimed six civilians were killed, four of whom from the same family. Deir Ezzor 24 states that eight were killed in total in the incident.
Deir Ezzor 24 reported that Haji Khleif Al-Abdullah Al-Othman was killed by a bullet from a helicopter after he came out to know why it was hovering over his house.
“After hearing sounds of helicopters and cars outside his house, Haji Abu Awwad came out to investigate what these sounds were, and once he got out of his door, he was shot by a bullet from the helicopter that was covering the operation, after hearing his cry, his son Muhammad came out to see what happened to his father, and he was also shot down over his father, then Ahmed, Muhammad’s brother and Haji Khleif’s son, joined them after taking a bullet ended his life. The two brothers and their father died in minutes, but they lost their lives without even knowing why they were killed.”
According to a single source, Syria.liveuamap, the victims were not civilians but members of ISIS. The source claimed that a total of six ISIS members were killed when the Coalition carried out a landing operation in support of SDF who was driving armored vehicles. @DeirEzzor24 claimed that SDF drove a total of 10 vehicles, while Manaret Al Furat claimed a total of 15 vehicles, which he described as Hummer vehicles. He added that “Coalition forces raided and besieged the house of Ahmad al-Faraj al-A’sman in Hawi al-Shahil through air and infantry forces and about 15 Hummer vehicles, using loudspeakers to ask the residents of the house to surrender amid reports of casualties.”
Both Hajeen Magazine and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll higher and claimed a total of eight civilian fatalities. Both sources reported that seven civilians were killed in the raid on Al Shahil, while another civilian was killed by SDF in a demonstration in the town a later time.
SANA, a source affiliated to the Syrian regime, was the only source that claimed that the attack was not carried out by SDF but by Qasad militias supported by US-helicopters. According to the source, “Qasad militia backed by US helicopters at dawn besieged al-Katef neighborhood in Shahil town for more than two hours, and then stormed into the neighborhood with heavy and random shooting, claiming the lives of six civilians, injuring others, and arresting a number of the locals.”
Syria News and several other sources reported that a total of two civilians were arrested. Zaman Wasl identified the two detainees as Hussein Allawi and Mahid As’ad Asman.
Pro-SDF source C.M. Deir Ezzor reported that SDF indeed carried out a successful operation and arrested Abu Bara al-Diri, “who financed the terrorist cells of Da’ash and was responsible for purchasing weapons and explosives in order to destabilize the region.” The source claimed that in a shooting, two “terrorists” were injured. The source added that SDF secured medical assistance to keep them alive.
Deir Ezzor 24 however, claimed that “two of the dead, who the SDF claimed to be Daesh cells, had nothing to do with the organization, but were elements of the SDF” and that their sources “confirmed that the rest of the victims were civilians and were not involved in any security or military activity”. Deir Ezzor 24 posted pictures of the victims Muhammad and Ahmed Khleif al-Asman in military uniforms of the SDF to corroborate the claim.
On May 18th, representatives of the Coalition and the SDF held a meeting with tribal figures and the families of the victims of both the Al Shalil operation, and an incident in Daman, Deir Ezzor 24 reports. According to this source, the families called upon the Coalition to provide evidence that their sons were connected to Daesh, questioning the credibility of this claim.
Deir Ezzor 24 said: “The victims’ families stressed that what took place in Ash-Shahil and Daman was a mistake, so the international coalition and the SDF have to admit that their information was inaccurate and erroneous.” In response, Deir Ezzor claims, the Coalition and the SDF representatives made a distinction between the two incidents, stating that in the case of Al Shahil the victims “had resisted the international coalition forces during the operation.”
The families of the victims contended that the evidence provided by the Coalition was not correct, and called for the “perpetrators be brought to justice and held accountable.” According to Deir Ezzor 24, “some of the tribal figures withdrew from the meeting, as they were not satisfied with the evidence provided, while some Sheikhs took the responsibility of completing the communication with the Coalition” regarding the two incidents.
The UN Commission of Inquiry cited the case in its September 2019 report, noting: “On 8 May, at approximately 1.00 a.m., a night raid by SDF, supported by international coalition air power, was conducted in the Al-Katif neighbourhood of Shahil, under SDF control. Reports received by the Commission described how, despite warnings given through loudspeakers, three men left their homes and were subsequently shot. Reportedly, this led to an exchange of fire when enraged residents of the town began to engage with SDF. The operation, which killed six men and injured another, infuriated residents and sparked major protests the following day, resulting in the accidental killing of a man when SDF fighters fired warning shots in the air near a checkpoint.”
In an apparent reference to this event, in its January 2021 monthly civilian casualty report, the US-led Coalition determined this event to be ‘non credible’, asserting: “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.”
Given widespread reporting of compensation paid to victims’ families, Airwars is presently querying this determination.
The incident occured between 12:00 am and 6:00 am local time.