On March 22, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 33 internally displaced people (IDPs) were killed in a US-led coalition airstrike on a school near Mansoura town, west of Raqqa on March 21.
According to SOHR, local residents said more bodies were recovered but it had been unable to document these at the time of publication, and that two people were rescued from the rubble.
UPDATE April 18 In its third situation report on Manbij and Raqqa, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said airstrikes hit the school while an estimated 25-30 displaced families were inside.
The school has hosted “a number of displaced families from Palmyra and Homs for the last three years,” OCHA said.
Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve told reporters on March 28 that his “initial read” was that the airstrike on the school killed dozens of Islamic State militants and not civilians.
“Everything we’ve seen since then suggests that it was the 30 or so ISIS fighters that we expected to be there,” Townsend said.
Original story appears below:
— Maya Gebeily (@GebeilyM) March 22, 2017
“We can now confirm that 33 people were killed,” SOHR director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding “They’re still pulling bodies out of the rubble until now. Only two people were pulled out alive.”
Update March 28: Airwars has investigated this airstrike and has a list of victims’ names from local sources and monitoring groups.
#BREAKING US-led coalition to probe alleged civilian casualties near Raqa: Pentagon
— AFP news agency (@AFP) March 22, 2017
Residents said around 40 displaced families from villages in Raqqa, Homs and Aleppo live in the school.
SOHR says the school is south of Mansoura, but we’re not sure that’s correct.
— UNICEF Media (@UNICEFmedia) March 23, 2017
On March 21, Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered (Raqqa SL) posted a story to Facebook about the school bombing.
— الرقة تذبح بصمت (@Raqqa_SL) March 21, 2017
It later posted a picture on Twitter of what it said was the destroyed building.
— الرقة تذبح بصمت (@Raqqa_SL) March 21, 2017
Update: Jabhat Thuwar al-Raqqa shared new images of the school
صور جديدة توضوح الدمار الحاصل في مدرسة البادية جنوب المنصورة جراء قصف التحالف الدولي, pic.twitter.com/xzF52r2DnY
— لواء ثوار الرقة (@thoaralraqqa) March 22, 2017
The Arabic used for “Al Badia school” is مدرسة البادية
Syrian state-run news agency SANA reported the raid on March 21. It said there were “dozens” of casualties and the school was almost completely destroyed. It specifically referred to the school as مدرسة “البادية الداخلية” which can be variously interpreted. It approximates to madrasa “al badiat al dakhilia” or “the internal desert” school.
Note the inverted commas.
Searching for Al Badia school
Al Badia in Syria can refer to nomadic shepherding, a way of life, rather than a specific place. It can also refer to a large region of Syria, mainly inhabited by Bedouin herdsmen who graze sheep, and camels. Some of these people are still nomadic.
We think that “Al Badia school” مدرسة البادية means a school for nomadic people, in its broadest sense, people who live in rural areas of the region.
We have clarified this with a native Arabic speaker.
We searched for “school Al Badia Al Mansoura”: مدرسة البادية المنصورة
This gave us a story on the ESyria website about the opening of a new boarding school in Mansoura in 2009.
The article refers to the opening of a school for the children of Al Badia – مدرسة لأبناء بادية – which appears to have been built to replace “mobile schools.”
It’s a boarding school, which means that conversion to house IDPs would be straightforward.
Comparing the images
First we compared the Raqqa SL picture with the 2009 picture of the school opening. The images show similarities, with a high wall bounding both. Both images appear to show a three-storey building.
There isn’t enough similarity to be 100% conclusive.
We then compared the Jabhat Thuwar al-Raqqa picture with the 2009 picture. Again, both images appear to show a three-storey building.
But, again, there isn’t enough similarity to be 100% conclusive.
Finding the location
We need to find school in or near Mansoura.
Wikimapia gives us this location, which is listed as:
الثانوية المهنية الزراعية فـــي ناحية المنصورة
This translates roughly as “Secondary vocational agricultural in Mansoura area.”
This school is in Mansoura town, if the person who located it on Wikimapia is correct.
There are other possible locations for the school, including this one to the south of Mansoura, which has similar features to the photographs included above.
The distance from the entranceway to the building is closer to what is seen in the photograph of the school from 2009, and, importantly, it is south of Mansoura, which is how SOHR referred to the school.
We think this is the most likely location of the two.
UPDATE Raqqa SL says the second location is the correct one.
— الرقة تذبح بصمت (@Raqqa_SL) March 22, 2017
It is highly likely that the US-led coalition bombed a school in or near Mansoura which was being used to house IDPs, killing dozens.
The school is likely to have been a boarding school built to educate herdsmen from desert areas.
We originally had two possibilities for the exact location of the school, but Raqqa SL confirmed that our second possibility was correct.
This post has been edited since publication to improve clarity