In a major casualty incident at least 40 civilians died (and as many as 420 according to some claims) with dozens more injured in an alleged Coalition airstrike on the al Badiya school in Mansoura, which was said to have housed up to 100 displaced families.
Coalition commander Lt General Townsend later denied that the strike had killed civilians, stating prior to the conclusion of the Coalition’s own assessment that: “We had multiple corroborating intelligence sources from various types of intelligence that told us the enemy was using that school. And we observed it. And we saw what we expected to see. We struck it. We saw what we expected to see. Afterwards, we got an allegation that it wasn’t ISIS fighters in there; got a single allegation it wasn’t ISIS fighters in there; it was instead refugees of some sort in the school. Yet, not seeing any corroborating evidence of that. In fact, everything we’ve seen since then suggests that it was the 30 or so ISIS fighters that we expected to be there.”
Local monitors disagreed. In a video Jisr TV said: “Tens of people displaced were in that school and until now we couldn’t reach the school and don’t know what happened to them. Whether they evacuated the school or not is unknown before it was targeted by Coalition warplanes.” Qasioun added that “the Coalition carried out three raids on the school and it’s not clear how many people were killed. The school hosted displaced people from Aleppo.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – also pointing towards the Coalition – put the death toll at 33, reporting: “One of the activists of the Syrian Observatory witnessed 33 bodies being pulled out of the rubble of the school which was destroyed by the Coalition’s warplanes, before members of the Islamic State came and kept people away. Additionally, two people were pulled out alive…Activists at the Observatory were unable to count the number of children and women among the 33 bodies because they were covered while they were pulled out.” Step news agency said that the number of deaths had risen to “more than 50 following Coalition raids targeting the town at noon today”.
The majority of sources stressed that most of the victims were women and children. Smart News was the only outlet providing specific figures, reporting a death toll of seven children and nine women. Smart went on to say that “according to another local source, the Islamic State organization demanded that civilians in the western and southern parts of al-Raqqa evacuate their schools and medical centers because they were being targeted by the coalition ‘for the possibility of being headquarters of the organization.’”
Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently meanwhile reported that the “the international coalition dropped leaflets on Al Mansoura and the surrounding villages warning residents to leae their homes after 9pm”.
There were some claims of much higher casualties. According to Raqqa Post the death toll may have been as high as 100: “The school hosted more than 50 families from Maskanah, Homs and other places and there are reports, which are not yet confirmed, that over 100 were killed and many more were wounded. Rescue operations are still taking place.” Baladi put the number killed still higher at 200 civilians – “mostly women and children” – with dozens more injured, adding that the school was completely destroyed. Al Natek also put the number killed at 200.
Q_Alenzy said that the school held 300 displaced people, of which 50 men were outside the building at the time of the attack. The source said it hadn’t yet managed to document the total number of deaths, though it reported that three families had died. According to Euphrates Post, the school was hosting even more refugees, up to “500 displaced women and children”.
A report by Syria News Desk did not refer to the al Badiya school specifically, but alleged that there had been “four raids on two schools inhabited by displaced people from eastern Aleppo. Two houses near the school were hit.” Additionally, “the media activist Mohammed Osman, quoting civilian sources from inside Mansoura, told the Syrian News Agency that the search for missing persons was still ongoing, especially as the raids caused the complete collapse of the two buildings, extensive destruction to the surrounding houses and the combustion of cars and motorcycles”.
As more reports came in, the claimed death toll continued to rise, with one local Mansoura group alleging that it had reached 275 – and specifically blaming “American warplanes”. Mansoura in its Peoples’ Eyes claimed an even higher figure: “420 martyrs with people still looking for survivors”.
A subsequent report by Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said that “the initial death toll for the massacre at Al Badiya school in Al Mansoura committed by the international coalition at dawn yesterday is 183. The bodies are still being pulled out and the number is expected to rise as there was 105 families present at the school.”
In its July 2017 civilian casualty report, the Coalition said it found insufficient evidence that civilians were killed: “March 20, 2017, near Al Mansura, Syria, via social media report: After review of available information and strike video it was assessed that there is insufficient evidence to find that civilians were harmed in this strike.”
In September 2017, Human Rights Watch published the findings of a major field investigation into the incident. The report said the Coalition attack took place at around 11pm local time at GPS co-ordinates 35.817220, 38.756306 – and had killed at least 40 named civilians. It said the dead included both IDPs and families of ISIS fighters.
Following Human Right Watch’s report, the Coalition re-opened and re-assessed the Al Mansoura school allegation. In late June 2018 it concluded it was responsible for killing 40 civilians: “(2.) March 20, 2017, near Raqqah, Syria via social media report. The report was reopened after the receipt of new evidence from Human Rights Watch. During a strike on Daesh militant multifunctional center allegedly caused civilian casualties. Forty civilians were unintentionally killed.”
Later on the Coalition provided Airwars with the military grid reference of the strike (37SDV780636), placing it at the al Badiya school in Mansoura.
The local time of the incident is unknown.